I slept outside the Day Resource Center for a night to try and get first-person perspective on the challenges experienced by those who spend every night on the streets.
by: Fayetteville City Council Candidate Justin Herbe
Last Sunday, in an effort to better understand the issues our city is experiencing with a growing unsheltered population, I slept outside the Day Resource Center in Fayetteville alongside ten other individuals, all of whom routinely live outdoors. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. Unnecessary government bureaucracy and responsibility avoidance has led to a homeless crisis within our city limits.
First off, I need to give a special thanks to Ms. Quancidine Hinson-Gribble and Mr. Joseph Wheeler, who organized the Sleep Out Fayetteville event. I saw many folks out there in support of the homeless throughout the night, and it did so much to give me hope for our future. I saw Carl Pringle, owner of Flip Flop sauce that is sold inside all our local Food Lion’s. He and his friend Michelle Ornelas, who was also present serving food, have a special ability to quietly live the ethos "do what you can where you can."
Personally, I am still undecided on the role a government, local or larger, should play in providing housing for people. This is a delicate issue where the problem is growing and resources are limited. People work hard to provide housing for their family. They have chosen to live in areas with higher property taxes in order for their children to go to better schools. Many have raised themselves up out of difficult situations with no handouts.
On the other side of the issue is the human cost and the reality of what I personally experienced. Over the course of the night, I had the chance to speak to several people and hear lots of personal stories about how they ended up living on the streets. Over and over again, what I heard was that they don’t want to be where they are. They did not ask to be homeless, and they need help. What absolutely broke my heart was the woman, 39 weeks pregnant, sleeping outside the center. Just past 11, her husband returned from his shift at the grocery, all his belongings in hand, gave her a hug and was able to sit and chat with her for about five minutes, until he had to leave for an eight-hour shift at the gas station, his second job. They don't get to spend much time together.
Fayetteville homeless who are seeking services are typically directed to Cumberland HealthNet and its division Coordinated Entry, a non-profit. Both had representatives at their Ribbon Cutting ceremony outside the Day Center the next morning. Both have a critical role to play in dealing with the many issues related to the homeless crisis in Fayetteville. Housing the unhoused is supposed to be the main focus of this organization. Unfortunately, this Day Center is only providing daytime resources. The people who need a place to live remain without one.
We can't look to the government to solve every problem that exists in our society at the present time. The poor will always be with us. The government will inevitably prove not up to the task. But this is not a free pass to point fingers and do nothing. It is a call to action at the individual level.
What I know is that the Bible is right. It says in Mathew 7:12 "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law…"
This means to me that I need to be willing to give more of myself. I need to give more of my time to helping the individuals on the street. I need to give more of my own money to keep families off the street. It does not mean the government needs to do more. WE THE PEOPLE need to do more. Find compassion, open your eyes to what it would look like if you ended up on the streets. Think about how you would want others to treat you. I hope that people would see me in a positive light. God sees us as a treasure worth sending his own Son to die on the Cross. Because He did this for us, let us also be willing to lift up our Brothers and Sisters.
Let us see the unsheltered population in Fayetteville through the same lens. The unsheltered are individuals who need a second chance. Give them a hand up, it's not a hand-out. Living a life without a shelter above our heads is much closer to reality than we may want to acknowledge. This uncomfortable fact that many of us are living paycheck to paycheck is a wake-up call reminding us that we could be in the same place very quickly if our jobs were lost or our rent was raised to an exorbitant level. There are between 500-1000 unsheltered individuals living on the streets in Fayetteville. Unfortunately, it is almost certainly going to get worse. With ever-increasing housing prices, inflation, and poor economic prospects, it appears that tougher times are ahead. I want to encourage everyone in the community to go downtown, walk around, use the city services, and imagine yourself in the position of the unhoused for just one day. Then I challenge you to "do what you can where you can."