The homeless in Elizabeth City will have an extra option for seeking shelter from extreme winter weather starting Sunday, thanks to City Council’s decision this week to approve a voucher program that will pay for stays at three local hotels.

Room at the Inn, the homeless cold weather program administered by local churches, will still be the first option for the homeless to seek shelter in Elizabeth City. However, because Room at the Inn only plans to operate between Jan. 5 and Feb. 9, the city will begin picking up the tab for the homeless to stay at one of the hotels when the forecasted temperature is 32 degrees and below.

“The voucher program will basically be in effect when the Room at the Inn is not operating,” said City Manager Rich Olson.

The Queen Elizabeth Motel, which will charge the city $55 a night, will be the city’s first option under the voucher program. Two other hotels — The Traveler’s Inn and the Whistling Pines — will be used if the Queen Elizabeth is full.

A person using a voucher will be limited to 10 hotel stays through Feb. 28, which is when the program ends. If a family of four seeks shelter, however, that will only count as one stay. The city’s police department will administer the program, which includes transportation to the hotel.

“The city of course will be released from all liability from damages caused by the participant,” said Elizabeth City police Chief Eddie Buffaloe, addressing council Monday night.

Money for the program will come from the $50,000 the city budgeted to combat homelessness. Buffaloe said he will provide the city with an annual report after the voucher program ends in February.

Councilor Darius Horton first asked about a voucher program for the homeless on Nov. 11. He told fellow councilors following Monday’s vote that he will be forming a coalition of local citizens to formulate a strategy to find a solution to the city’s homeless problem. He said he’ll be asking City Council for a resolution of support once the coalition is formed.

“I pray that through this council’s efforts that some person will benefit from this during this cold time,” Horton said. “I want to have this group of persons that are willing to come together to help spearhead and tackle this issue especially as we move forward and hopefully have a homeless shelter.”

The most recent data available indicates there are about 26 homeless persons living in Pasquotank County. The city is in line to receive $100,000 in state funding that could be used for a homeless shelter but that money is tied up by the current state budget impasse.