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City eyes nonprofit to run shelter after operator disbands

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Elizabeth City officials are seeking another nonprofit to run the city-owned homeless shelter at 709 Herrington Road, following the disbanding of its former operator, the Visions of Hope.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Elizabeth City officials are seeking another nonprofit to run the city-owned homeless shelter on Herrington Road, following the disbanding of its former operator, the Visions of Hope.

City Council voted unanimously Monday to have the city to put out a request for proposals seeking a qualified, viable nonprofit to reopen the shelter at 709 Herrington Road. The city used a grant to buy the two-story house in 2006. Since then, several groups have tried to operate a homeless shelter in the building.

The shelter’s latest operator, Visions of Hope, started up in late 2014 but lost its nonprofit status in 2016. While that represented a violation of its permit to operate the shelter, Visions of Hope continued to run the shelter until earlier this year. The city discovered a bedbug infestation that required shutting down the shelter for pest control — forcing its tenants back on the streets.

In more bad news for the shelter, City Manager Rich Olson reported to council Monday that Visions of Hope has dissolved.

Visions of Hope “as an entity no longer exists,” Olson said. “They don't have a duly constituted board, it's my understanding, their shelter manager has resigned, and the person who's been in charge of it, Helen Williams, has basically informed us she no longer wants to be involved in the shelter business.”

That led Olson to again propose selling the property because of nonprofits’ struggle to operate a viable shelter there.

Councilors Darius Horton and Gabriel Adkins opposed the sale, however. Horton, who also strongly supported reopening the shelter in 2014, said city staff need to reach out to more churches and nonprofits about the possibility of operating the shelter, which he said remains greatly needed.

“We do have a homeless problem in Elizabeth City,” Horton said.

Notably, there are very few homeless shelters in the area.

Councilor Kem Spence didn't disagree with Horton, but also suggested the city shouldn't wait indefinitely for a new shelter operator. A long wait could allow the house to fall into disrepair, he noted.

That led Olson to suggest putting out a formal request for proposals. Horton agreed to the idea, as did other councilors.

Olson said the city will require a shelter operator be a valid 501(c)3 organization. A organization with 501(c)3 status means it’s been designated as tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service. A new operator will also have to show it has the expertise and staff needed to run the shelter, including helping tenants find work and, if needed, mental health services.

Prior to allowing Visions of Hope to use the city-owned building at 709 Herrington Road, city officials discussed whether the city could directly operate a shelter. Olson explained then that, while the city could, it would be more expensive than allowing a nonprofit to do so. The city would have to hire employees, rather than rely on volunteers, and meet higher regulatory standards, he said.

One man looking to restart a homeless shelter in Elizabeth City is Pastor Oliver Robinson, who until recently has operated a shelter at 515 S. Road Street through the Tabernacle of Faith.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Robinson said he's working to reopen that shelter, as well as one at 207 Bell Street, but doesn't want to run the city-owned shelter. Robinson notably ran the city's shelter from 2007 through mid-2010, but closed it down because of a lack of funding. City officials also had concerns about Robinson pushing shelter occupants to participate in religious activities. The city's zoning board found that violated state and federal laws.

Robinson said Tuesday his focus is on repairing and reopening his current shelters. Tabernacle of Faith needs donated labor — particularly carpentry and painting — and money to make the shelters ready for habitation and for the city to permit them to reopen, he said. Robinson asked that anyone interested in helping should give him a call at 264-3441.

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