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Cynthia Williams never imagined she was an unemployment slip and foreclosure notice away from being homeless.
Williams, a widow, has been living for the last 18 months at the Rowan Helping Ministries overnight shelter.
She was just one of those counted during Wednesday’s point-in-time homeless count. The count, conducted by Rowan Helping Ministries staff and volunteers, gives a snapshot of the homeless in the area during a 24-hour period.
Catawba College sociology students volunteered to tally the number of homeless people staying at Rowan Helping Ministries’ overnight shelter and in its transitional housing units.
In years past, volunteers hit the streets to find people who were staying in parks, abandoned buildings and under bridges and overpasses. The data is submitted to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
In the past, the numbers were gathered through a street-based count. This year, HUD has required the count be conducted through a service-based survey.
The homeless who receive services through Rowan Helping Ministries in Salisbury, Rowan Helping Ministries-West and Main Street Mission in China Grove will be counted in this survey.
David Holston, director of shelter services, said a preliminary tabulation showed an increase over last year’s figures. In 2012, 70 people were counted in both the shelter and transitional housing on the same night. This year it was 79, an increase of six in the shelter alone.
The count can be conducted up to weeks after Wednesday’s and Thursday’s initial count. Those who receive services from the agency will be asked where they were on the night of Jan. 30. All individuals are counted once. Locally, the count is required each year, but HUD only mandates the count be completed at least every two years.
The purpose of the survey is to help local officials gauge the scope of homelessness throughout the area and to help plan programs and services to address any needs. On a larger scale, HUD uses the data to determine any gaps in services, and it also helps when designating funding. This year’s survey questions included an inquiry of veterans, people displaced by natural disasters and whether the homeless had received help and still need help for mental health services, substance abuse/addiction treatment or job training, to name a few.
Williams, a Rockwell native, was working in food services at a hospital. She lost power during a storm and by the time she arrived to work, she was asked to leave. The employer had a zero tolerance no call/no show policy. She eventually lost her house to foreclosure.
Williams believes she is not what most people think of when they envision a homeless person. She said people assume a homeless person is without a home because they are drug addicted or they are uneducated.
Williams has an associate’s degree in biblical studies and is pursuing a degree in criminal justice from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. She also does not have a substance abuse issue.
“Some people can be in the same position. It’s a variety of reasons, especially with the way the economy is,” Williams said.
Franklin Michael is a native of Oregon who migrated to the North Carolina area three years ago. He arrived in Salisbury in December 2011.
He lives in the Eagles’ Nest transitional housing. He’s at the shelter under what he refers to as situational crisis.
He was asked to leave the home he and his wife shared with her stepchildren. Michael and the youngest son clashed, he said.
The two had a verbal argument and Michael was asked to take “a hiatus,” he said.
Michael figured he would leave for a few days or weeks, to cool off. He stayed away for 212 days.
“I wanted to go back,” he said.
Michael is an Army veteran and married his wife, who was his high school sweetheart, before enlisting. Not long into their marriage, his wife’s father died and Michael was asked to keep his distance by one of her family members.
The two were apart for 29 years and unbeknownst to Michael, she searched for him. The two remarried after reuniting. He’s working on reconciling his marriage and while here in Salisbury, he’s also pursuing a degree from RCCC in social work.
Meeting people during the survey has enlightened Casondra Kirk, who is rethinking what she wants to do upon graduation.
She was surprised by the candor of many of those she surveyed. She was also unaware of the plight of the homeless and how many homeless there are in Rowan County.
“This changed my outlook on things,” she said.
Kirk was there as a volunteer through her Catawba sociology class and professor Dr. Maria Vandergriff-Avery.
Vandergriff-Avery used a class assignment to create an opportunity for students to engage with a human services agency and the people who use its services.
Many of the students will go into the human services field.
“It’s very different to meet people who are living the things we theorize and talk about,” Vandergriff-Avery said.
She said it was also a chance for the students to “do some thing good in the community.”
Bobby Forbes, a native of Pitt County, admits his addiction to alcohol and drugs have led to a life of crime and subsequently, a life on the streets.
Since 2005, he’s been in prison sporadically. He’s gone from Pitt County to Rowan County for the last 11 years and throughout that time has been homeless.
His late mother and brother have tried to help him. They even secured a two bedroom apartment, Forbes said.
When his mother died in May 2006, Forbes returned to Pitt County and to the streets.
Forbes said he knows he can stay with his brother, but doesn’t want to burden him.
In 2011, he began an outpatient treatment program through Daymark Recovery Services.
“I came back to Rowan Helping Ministries. I look to be clean and sober. I look for better prospects for myself,” he said.
Forbes is appreciative of the help Executive Director Kyna Foster has provided him.
“She told me she wanted to see me do good,” Forbes said.
He’s now staying at the Eagles’ Nest where he’s been for nearly three months.
Foster gave Forbes a chance to learn something about himself, he said.
“She’s all I have. I respect her. I cherish her as a real friend,” Forbes said.
Zenobia Clark has been at the shelter for 14 months. He lost his construction job in Davidson County.
Clark relocated to Salisbury because he has a sister who lives here and he was hoping to find a job. Clark believes what prevented him from obtaining a job immediately was a felony conviction from five years ago.
He’s now living at the Eagles’ Nest and has recently found a local construction job.
“It’s a good feeling, you know,” Clark said.

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