Archives – February, 2011

Homeless Initiative partnerships help get people into homes

Recently reported numbers show that, in 2010, 65 people experiencing homelessness in Buncombe County were placed in, or were in the application process for, permanent housing, reports Amy Sawyer, coordinator of the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative.

That, Sawyer says, represents successful progress in advancing the Homeless Initiative and the 10-year Plan to End Homelessness endorsed in 2005 by Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commissioners. The 10-year Plan to End Homelessness operates on the Housing First model, where people experiencing homelessness receive financial assistance and supportive services needed to access housing, and preventative steps are taken to address families and individuals who may be at risk of losing their homes.

The news comes as a result of the work and collaboration of the Chronic Homelessness Partnership, formed by the Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee in 2009 to respond to the idea that using evidence-based practices to focus attention on those who regularly need the assistance of costly emergency services can go a long way toward addressing area homelessness.

The partnership, led by the Advisory Committee, made up of the Buncombe County Human Services Team, the Charles George Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the City of Asheville Housing Authority, the City of Asheville, Homeward Bound and Western Highlands.

“In just over a year, this group has knitted together existing resources in order to help some of the hardest to reach people access permanent, supportive housing,” Sawyer says.

Additionally, the Asheville Police Department, with the assistance of the City of Asheville’s Community Relations division, has placed additional focus on the effort to identify likely candidates for housing by assigning officers to facilitate communication with partners in this collaboration effort. Like the above agencies involved in the Chronic Homeless Partnership, APD officers can share important details about people who are using the greatest amount of services and are most in need of housing stability.

The combined effort, Sawyer says, is unprecedented in the region and means more sharing of information across disciplines and more effective delivery of services while avoiding redundancies, ultimately resulting in a reduction in the number of people experiencing homelessness.

“You really can’t overstate what this kind of collaboration means in the effort to get people into housing,” Sawyer says. “Everyone has to be tuned in and able to communicate in order to identify those who most need assistance.”

To pursue its mission, the partnership team reviews potential clients brought to the table by each member. Selected participants are invited to join the project and, if they agree, work with housing case managers to apply for a housing subsidy through the Housing Authority and/or access other rental assistance provided through grants from the City of Asheville and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

House managers continue to work with clients after the move in to connect them with services like job and financial counseling, child care, veterans services or even treatment for mental health and addiction to ensure long-term housing stability. For people entering the program, access to these supports is vital. So far, the over 90% of people entering the program have maintained their housing.

Sawyer reports that, in 2010, 46 people moved into a mixture of public, voucher and other forms of housing. Another 19 were in some stage of the application process. A Point in Time Count at the beginning of 2010 indicated that, with the help of other housing programs in the community, 305 people were in permanent supportive housing.

Click here for more information on the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative.

2 Comments February 23, 2011

Making the stage: Picking the Bele Chere bands

This weekend, a group of local music lovers will shut themselves in an Asheville hotel suite and spend three days listening to some 600 musical submissions for the 2011 Bele Chere Festival. The ritual takes place every year at the end of February and results in the entertainment lineup for the festival, held this year July 29-31.

Three groups will begin their day at 9 a.m., listening to three excerpts from each and every submission, scoring each and winding out the weekend with the list that will result in 37 musical slots on the festival’s four stages.
The Mad Tea Party Bele Chere 2010

The three groups correspond with categories made up of musical sub genres: One focusses on styles like rock, americana and jam bands, another on blues, jazz, reggae and hip-hop, and still another for country, bluegrass and singer-songwriter.

“You have to commit to listening to everything that is in your category. It can make for an intense weekend,” says Cristin Corder Lee, Event Specialist with the Asheville Parks, Recreation & Cultural Arts Department. The committees are provided snacks and meals and take occasional breaks, but otherwise they spend those hours listening to song submissions and reading band bios.

The process actually got rolling in December, when the call went out for musical submissions. Musical acts have the option of submitting online or mailing in CDs and information packets. This year, the submission deadline was extended to Feb. 18 to ensure the best selection possible.

The selection committee itself is also the result of an application process. Members are picked after a call for applications, and are typically selected based on their knowledge or enthusiasm for music.

“We’ve had people who have been involved in music production, in promotion, some who have been in bands or who write about music for local publications,” says Steve Busey, who has chaired Bele Chere Entertainment Committee for several years and now serves as the festivals’ chair.

Busey even points to a T.C. Roberson high-school student who was on the selection panel last year because of her love for country music. “And it was great to have a younger person in the group,” he says.

Though Corder Lee facilitates the selection process, neither she nor any other city staff actually participates in the voting process. “We want as much transparency as possible, and to give every one a chance to participate,” she says. She does, however, use the committee’s choices to put together the schedules for each stage, making sure each showcases different kinds of music. “We want to get as much diversity up there as possible,” she says. “We want to make sure there is something there for everyone.” She adds that six slots reserved for headlining acts are filled by an executive committee that makes picks based on factors like budget, band availability and genre of music.

A 2007 survey and a vote by Asheville City Council placed a higher emphasis on showcasing local music at the festival. Corder Lee says the festival’s recent lineups have easily exceeded the percentages mandated by that Council vote.

The complete entertainment lineup for the 2011 Bele Chere fest will be announced in June, though some performers may be announced as they are confirmed, and the festival lineup is always subject to change.

To keep up with the latest in Bele Chere news, check in at and follow along on Facebook and Twitter.

5 Comments February 21, 2011

Taking root: the West Riverside Operation Weed and Seed

To get to the root of the ideas behind the West Riverside Operation Weed and Seed initiative, now in its fifth year in Asheville, program coordinator Rebecca Byrn says it is all about building relationships.

“That’s the foundation of what I do,” Byrn says. “Bringing organizations together, enhancing the relationship the community has with law enforcement and making sure those connections happen.”

The West Riverside Operation Weed and Seed stems out of a national strategy funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and intended to address crime prevention and public safety. The WROWS covers much of West Asheville and focuses energy on areas and neighborhoods that have a higher vulnerability for crime. Weed and Seed works in those communities by fostering trust and communication with law enforcement while building momentum for vulnerable communities to sustain positive change through meaningful programs and neighborhood restoration.

And, Byrn adds, the numbers show a real decrease in crime and violent crime in those areas.

“We are showing a 45% decrease in drug calls for service, a 32% decrease in violent crime and a 24% decrease in weapons offenses compared to the two years before the program was initiated,” Byrn says. “Every year we see the crime numbers go down.”

In November of 2010, Asheville City Council voted to accept the latest round of federal funding.

So how does Weed and Seed work? As it is funded through a USDOJ grant, all Weed and Seed efforts must be rooted in increasing public safety, but the strategies for achieving that mission can have many different faces.

Part of the funding goes to providing extra law enforcement. Asheville Police Officers are able to focus an additional 25 hours on the WROWS above their normal patrol duties in order to “weed out” criminal activity. Community Resource Officers also develop relationships with neighborhood residents, encouraging community policing efforts. “We want people to be comfortable going to law enforcement so they can help officers with information on what goes on in their community,” Byrn notes.

Officers are also on point to interact with neighbors regarding code enforcement in communities, as nuisance properties have been shown to have a relationship to crime in neighborhoods. CROs can also be seen attending community events and helping out with neighborhood cleanups.

Those steps dovetail with the program’s prevention, intervention and neighborhood improvement, or “seed” strategies, that involve an expanding network of community members and organizations. All are involved in creating positive and enriching environments for education and growth, from tutoring programs and creative arts to job preparedness and financial counseling. A steering committee made up of community members and service providers works with an expanding group of partners to determine best opportunities for community development.
Rebecca Byrn Weed and Seed coordinatorAs the grant administrator, the City of Asheville awards Weed and Seed money, through a request for proposals process, to organizations who can provide programs that meet the initiative’s goals. Recent examples include tutoring by River of Life International and the I Have a Dream Foundation, and street beautification by Asheville Greenworks.

From an upcoming babysitting certification program through the Red Cross to nutritional cooking classes by Slow Food Asheville, the kinds of programs that fit into Weed and Seed cover a lot of ground, but all can be traced back to the common goal of increased public safety.

See below to read a list of organizations currently contracted to provide services through the the West Riverside Operation Weed and Seed program.

On Feb. 24, Asheville will host a regional Weed and Seed conference that will see representatives from the U.S. Attorney General’s office, as well as officials from Charlotte, Shelby and Statesville’s Weed and Seed operations. Alongside a visit to the Weed and Seed area, officials will be able to share notes on strategies that have paid off. “It’s important that we have these kinds of quarterly visits,” says Bryn. “We all face the same successes and the same challenges.”

For more information on the West Riverside Operation Weed and Seed program, contact program coordinator Rebecca Byrn at (828) 258-2813 or

The following organizations are currently contracted to provide services to the WROWS:

Asheville Greenworks (Neighborhood beautification)
Children First, Project MARCH (Youth tutoring and enrichment programs)
Consumer Credit Counseling Services (Money management and home ownership classes)
Green Opportunities (Job readiness program)
I Have a Dream Foundation (Youth mentoring, tutoring and enrichment program)
LEAF in Schools and Streets (Creative arts program for youth)
River of Life (Youth tutoring and enrichment programs)
Slow Food Asheville, FEAST (Nutritional cooking classes)

5 Comments February 18, 2011

Test driving a solar-powered trash compactor

City of Asheville solar trash compactorThis solar-powered trash/recycling unit recently appeared outside the City of Asheville’s Public Works and Development Services building on South Charlotte Street. The city’s Solid Waste manager Wendy Simmons says the Public Works Department is testing out the combination recycling and trash container, provided by Waste Management, which is designed to encourage recycling while reducing the amount of times trash needs collecting.

The trash can portion of the unit sports a solar-powered compactor allowing it to contain up to five times the amount of trash as regular cans. It can even be set to alert sanitation staff via text message when it is full. That could mean a big reduction in the need for trash collection, Simons says. Meanwhile, an attached recycling component makes it easier for people to choose to recycle rather than throw away cans or bottles.

Public Works is currently only demoing the unit, and plans to install a second one in a to-be-determined location in downtown Asheville, but the research is part of a larger effort to explore options to increase recycling and reduce waste that goes into the landfill.

“The Sanitation division is constantly examining new options for reaching waste reduction goals within the city and encourage recycling,” Simmons says. “And this design is another opportunity for us to test new technology.”

Have ideas or feedback? Contact the Sanitation Division at 259-5857 or

3 Comments February 16, 2011

All in the numbers: Visible street addresses aid emergency response

Looking for an easy way to help police or fire and rescue responders get to you in an emergency? Make sure your home or business’ street number is on display and visible from the road.

“Anytime first responders, police fire or medical personnel, are responding to calls for service, their response time is reduced when addresses are conspicuously posted,” says Asheville Police Department Captain Daryl Fisher. “These extra seconds could be the difference in the survival of victims.”
Asheville Buncombe Communication CenterAccording to Stuart Rohrbaugh, in the City of Asheville’s Development Services, an estimated 20 percent of commercial buildings and 50 percent of residences in Asheville don’t have address numbers posted on the structure. As the city’s Emergency Address Coordinator, Rohrbaugh is in charge of assigning street addresses to development projects that come through Development Services.

Rohrbaugh enters those addresses into the city’s GIS system, which are then used by dispatchers at the Buncombe Emergency Operations Center, operated with a partnership between the City of Asheville and Buncombe County, to direct first responders to the scene of a emergency call.

“This is primarily how we get our emergency response teams to the scene,” Rohrbaugh says. And despite technological advances like GIS information, a lack of a visible street address can make it harder for responders to find the location of an emergency. “All of this is based around emergency response, so we want to let people know the importance of displaying addresses on their houses.”

Development Services Director Robert Griffin notes that all new construction must have street numbers visible before final approval of the permit, and Fire Inspectors ensure that addresses are on existing commercial structures during periodic inspections. State law says that all commercial property clearly display numbers. Still, many older buildings don’t have that information on display, or have them in places that are hidden from view.

“We do run into that quite often, where we can’t see the numbers. In case of a major emergency, that’s a situation,” says Asheville Fire Department Public Information Officer Kelley Webb. “You literally need to stand in the road and look and see if it is visible, especially at night. We need to be able to find you, and seconds do count.”

3 Comments February 12, 2011

Pedestrian bridge walk highlights next steps for safety

The latest in a series of steps in the reopening of the pedestrian bridge that spans I-240 and connects the Hillcrest Apartment complex with Asheville’s River District took place Saturday, Feb. 5. City of Asheville police, public works and community relations staff gathered alongside community members to share information about the reopening and gather information about areas residents feel present safety concerns. Neighborhood/Volunteer Coordinator Marsha Stickford shared, “This is a chance for us to benefit from your knowledge of the area and hear your ideas. Your input will really have an impact on what we do.”
City of Asheville pedestrian bridge walkThe bridge was reopened by the Department of Transportation in early December following a request by the Asheville City Council. The reopening was ahead of schedule and tasks to be completed by the city of Asheville such as removing brush and cleaning sidewalks in the vicinity of the pedestrian bridge were moved forward to compensate for the early re-opening.

“We have done some tree trimming to make the area safer and passable, but there is more to come,” said David Foster, assistant director of public works. Foster noted that temporary patches have been made on eroded sidewalks adjacent to the bridge, and added that permanent fixes are coming in the spring. Additional walk-throughs are anticipated for the spring as well, when leaves are on trees and additional growth may need to be cut.

Increased law enforcement coverage was also moved up to accommodate the early opening. Community Resource Officer Jackie Stepp emphasized the Asheville Police Department is prioritizing safety at the pedestrian bridge. “The department is making extra checks,” Stepp said. “We do surveillance and walk-throughs that [the community] may not see.”
Asheville CRO Jackie SteppAPD foot patrols, said APD Chief William Hogan, will increase in the warmer weather of spring and summer when more people spend time outside. Meanwhile, new officers are currently making their way through the police academy, which is anticipated to provide even more law enforcement for the area, a concern expressed by neighborhoods adjacent to the bridge.

After the information session, community members and city staff walked through the bridge and surrounding area and discussed opportunities to implement Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles. CPTED priniciples are multi-faceted and range from landscape alterations such as the removal of underbrush that provides a hiding place for people engaging in criminal behavior to increasing community pride through beautification projects. The idea is that criminal behavior is less likely to occur in well kept areas where people are active and feel invested in sustaining a safe community.

The information gathered in the CPTED walk will form the next steps of the work plan to be completed by the public works department and community partners. “Residents living in the vicinity of the bridge are the people with the knowledge who can tell us what needs the attention, from the Police to Public Works,” Stickford said. “This is not a one-shot thing. We are going to continue paying attention.”

The city will continue its partnership with the Department of Transportation to address areas adjacent to the bridge that, like the bridge itself, are DOT-owned. Additionally, Stickford said, the city is exploring community partnership efforts that can help keep areas around the bridge clean. As an indicator of success, Stickford points to a clean up effort before Saturday’s meeting, in which Hillcrest community members picked up a literal truckload of trash from around the area.

“The Hillcrest community really stepped up to the plate on that one,” Stickford said.

In order to maintain a safe and clean pedestrian bridge, Asheville city departments will need the help of the community. Reporting criminal or suspect activity will help police keep the area safe. Sharing potential improvements can lead to a better and more accessible pedestrian route. The contact information for the Asheville Police Department’s Community Resource Officers and the city’s Community Relations division can be found below.

To follow the progress of the safety efforts, visit and follow the Hillcrest Pedestrian Bridge link.

See more photos of the community meeting and walk at the City of Asheville’s Fickr page.

To submit ideas or feedback for the pedestrian bridge, contact Neighborhood/Volunteer Coordinator Marsha Stickford at 259-5506

Community Resource Officer public safety contacts:

East and North Asheville:
CRO Brien Griffin (828) 552-1467
West Asheville:
CRO Josh Simpson (828) 251-4032
CRO Chad McCall (828) 251-4032
CRO Jackie Stepp (828) 337-7478
CRO Evan Coward (828) 777-4505

Leave a Comment February 9, 2011

APD Youth Explorers take prizes at Gatlinburg, TN competition

APD Explorers 3

Members of the Asheville Police Department’s Explorer Post 57 traveled to Gatlinburg, TN over the weekend to compete in the annual Winterfest Competition there. The competition focuses on skills and training to accomplish 15 simulated law enforcement scenarios like crime scene investigation and burglary report. The group of eight competing Explorers came home with second place in Basic Call Theft Report and third place in Felony Traffic Stop.

More than 67 law enforcement agencies participated in the Winterfest Competition weekend.

APD Explorers 1

APD Explorers 2

Click here to see more photos at the City of Asheville’s Flickr page.

The Asheville Police Department’s Explorer program is open to young men and women ages 14 to 21. For more information on the APD Explorer post, contact Officer Allen Dunlap at (828) 259-5834 or

Leave a Comment February 8, 2011

Walking the walk

Asheville walkability tour
City planners, elected officials, engineers and students from around the United States toured Asheville on Wednesday, Feb. 2 as part of a Town Makers Discovery Tour organized by the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute and Local Government Commission and guided by City of Asheville Planning and Development staff.

The Town-makers’ Discovery Tour, held in advance of the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Charlotte, took participants through Asheville, Charlotte, Belmont, Kannapolis, Cornelius and Davidson.

The event, said City of Asheville Urban Planner Alan Glines (pictured above), was an opportunity to display Asheville’s achievements in walkability and to explain ongoing initiatives to improve pedestrian and bicycle access in the city. The tour took the group through downtown Asheville, West Asheville, the River District, Biltmore Town Square and Biltmore Village.

Leave a Comment February 4, 2011

Groundhog Day at the WNC Nature Center

The word everyone was waiting for came out of the WNC Nature Center on Wednesday afternoon, as Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy and Nibbles the Groundhog had a Groundhog’s Day conference to predict the coming of Spring.

The media event fell on the same day as the nationally-followed prediction by Punxsutawney Phil, but as Education naturalist Eli Strull explained, “We wanted to get the scoop as close to home as possible.”

Asheville Groundhog DayAsheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, taking on the role of “Groundhog Whisperer” conferred momentarily with 5-year-old Nibbles, the WNC Nature Center’s resident groundhog, before declaring that, though it may take its time, Spring will indeed arrive in Western North Carolina. “It’s coming. It’s going to be a little delayed, but it’s coming,” the Mayor said, adding thats she hopes people take advantage of good weather to visit the center.

The previous weekend’s warm spell brought huge crowds, said WNC Nature Center Director Chris Gentile.

The WNC Nature Center has observed Groundhog’s Day for the past eight years, and Nibbles is the second groundhog to have the honor of being front and center at the event.

Nibbles the Groundhog at WNC Nature CenterThe tradition, Strull explained, comes from European stock, and is timed to coincide with groundhogs coming out of their winter hibernation. Nibbles, who was raised as a pet and therefore cannot be released back into the wild, has recently moved into a new exhibit and habitat facility at the center’s red barn that allows for comfortable hibernation in the winter and activity in the warm months. Glass viewing windows mean visitors can better observe Nibbles in her new home.

The new exhibit is one in an ongoing series of improvements and upgrades at the WNC Nature Center, Gentile said.

The WNC Nature Center’s mission is to increase public awareness and understanding of the natural environment of Western North Carolina. Featuring over 150 animals including otters, black bear and red wolf, the Center is open from 10:00 – 5:00 daily.

The Center is operated by the City of Asheville and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)

Leave a Comment February 3, 2011

City of Asheville’s Plan Reviewers log state’s highest building review certification

City of Asheville Plan Reviewers

The City of Asheville’s Development Services announced this week that its entire Plan Review staff now has the highest level of building review certification available. Plan review certification by the State of North Carolina is awarded in three tiers, each determining what kinds of buildings an examiner is certified to review. Plan reviewer Jared Merrill’s recent level III certification means he joins the rest of the team in the state’s highest level of building review certification, with the ability to review plans for any building regardless of its size or use.

That, said Plans Examiner Supervisor Ron Evans, means an even smoother experience for customers who come to Development Services to submit plans for review, and a higher level of cross-communication within the office.

“If you have a good group of technical certification, you have a better ability to meet customer needs and stay within technical code requirements,” Evans said.

“This is an accomplishment,” said Development Services Director Robert Griffin. “All of our Plan Reviewers have the highest certification in Building, all are certified by the State and the International Code Council (the international organization who develops the foundation for NC’s Codes), one is a registered Architect, and one has a degree in architecture with just a few exams to become registered.”

Evans said all plan reviewers are encouraged to pursue higher certifications in different review categories, including plumbing, electrical and mechanical. Members of the Plan Review team, he said, already have achieved a healthy mix of those abilities as well, allowing for interchangeability when serving Development Services customers.

“It’s a continuing process,” Evans said. “We like to be cross trained so each person can take on a review if someone else in unavailable.”

1 Comment February 1, 2011

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