By Bellamy Crawford
Homeward Bound (HB), an Asheville nonprofit working to prevent and end homelessness through permanent housing and support, has spent years studying the need for housing solutions in Buncombe County. “On any given night, there are 600 individuals experiencing homelessness in Asheville,” says Cindy McMahon, HB’s interim executive director. “Last year the number of people experiencing homelessness in Asheville increased 21 percent, and the number of people living outdoors, on the street, in tents or under bridges almost doubled.”
In 2021, after five years of operating a small housing residence in downtown Asheville, HB moved forward with a housing solution that will provide stability, safety and improved quality of life for 85 individuals and couples experiencing chronic homelessness. Thanks to grants from the City of Asheville, Buncombe County and Dogwood Health Trust, HB purchased a motel property on Tunnel Road. The projected date to move residents into the apartment community is early 2023. “The folks who will live here have been living unhoused for decades and have at least one disabling condition that could be mental, physical or both,” says Eleanor Ashton, HB senior resource development director.
Renovations will include spaces for supportive services. “Residents will have access to a peer support room, a library, an outdoor courtyard and a communal dining room,” Ashton says. “These spaces will help foster a sense of community, allowing residents to feel connected to and invested in their environment and in one another.” HB is working with community partner agencies like Sunrise Community Wellness and Recovery, MAHEC and others to provide behavioral health services, educational activities, job training, a medical clinic and exercise classes.
Data from the Woodfin Apartments, HB’s permanent supportive housing residence in downtown Asheville, show that since its inception in 2016, 92 percent of residents there have remained housed. Mission Hospital reported that emergency department visits for illness and/or injury of Woodfin residents during the year after residency decreased by 50 percent.
Fundraising for the motel conversion is still under way, with a total capital campaign goal of $16.5 million. “We are so close to reaching the finish line and are depending on our community to help us raise the rest,” says Ashton.
Since 2006, HB has permanently housed nearly 2,400 individuals. The motel conversion is expected to decrease chronic homelessness in our community by an additional 40 percent.
To learn more or make a donation to Homeward Bound’s motel conversion project, visit HomewardBoundWNC.org.