An approach developed four years ago by the Ashville Police Department to interacting with people experiencing homelessness has proved so successful it is now official departmental policy.
The APD’s homelessness strategy prioritizes connecting people with available services and housing assistance over making arrests, and giving people using illegal camps seven days to vacate. The success of the procedure is cited as a major factor in reducing chronic homelessness in Asheville, and in April, the APD added the approach to its policy manual and began department-wide training in such interactions.
In 2005, Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Commission adopted a 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, and Council supported the establishment of the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative and the “Housing First” model. That approach calls for providing housing to people experiencing homelessness with no strings attached – a model that gained big successes on a national level.
In 2010, the APD applied that philosophy when responding to calls about homeless camps, introducing people there to service providers and handing out information outlining where to find housing assistance.
“We adopted a protocol that gives people seven days to vacate a camp, while at the same time connecting them to services,” says Sgt. Jackie Stepp. The department also partnered with outreach groups like Homeward Bound and the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville. “The idea is to connect them with services and divert them away from the justice system, and not go into a situation anticipating making an arrest.”
Heather Dillashaw, Director of the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative, says the APD’s participation and outreach is a major factor in reducing chronic homelessness in Asheville from 293 identified in 2005 to 47 by the beginning of 2013, an 84% drop.
“It has absolutely made a huge difference,” Dillashaw says. “We certainly would not have made this kind of headway without the APD’s work early on. Their experience provided us with information on who among the homeless community were drawing on our public safety resources, so we knew where to focus our efforts.”
In tandem with the policy’s adoption, officers have also been undergoing Crisis Intervention Training, an approach to interacting one-on-one in crisis situations. CIT was developed in order to find constructive ways to approach and assist people in mental or emotional crisis. Like the homelessness policy, it seeks to establish relationships and find solutions rather than put people in jail. And despite its primary role, the training has proven a valuable tool when approaching people experiencing homelessness or in other interactions with the public. “People in these situations don’t necessarily have a mental issue,” Stepp said. “But there is often tension when you go into a camp and this helps us establish that we are there to help, and are not there as adversaries.”
Information about resources available to people experiencing homelessness can be found by calling 828-259-5851 or online here.
The U.S. Cellular Center continues to evolve and make upgrades to improve downtown Asheville’s largest entertainment venue. Already, the U.S. Cellular Center has made strides in attracting big name acts and sports. Sold out shows like the annual Christmas Jam continue to garner national attention, while the Southern Conference Basketball Tournament recently announced that it would continue to take place there through the 2017 season.
U.S. Cellular Center General Manager Chris Corl inside the ExploreAsheville.com arena.
And while the most visible construction project remains the refurbishment of the front entrance and lobby, another upgrade inside will enhance the center’s ability to expand into another market as a convention center.
Thanks to an $800,000 award from the Tourism Development Authority, the U.S. Cellular Center is renovating its 87,000 square foot convention space and adding seven breakout meeting rooms. Additionally, renovations on the banquet hall have already been completed. That, says the center’s General Manager Chris Corl, will make it more attractive to national conventions.
“Just getting the word out about the renovations has generated interest,” Corl says. Conventions represent a significant revenue source, and unlike most big entertainment events, they take place during weekdays. That means more active days inside the center and more business during typically slower months.
“This helps with our goal of having no ‘dark days,’ and to make us have less of an off season.” Corl says.
Drawing convention and trade show crowds to Asheville also has an economic impact to the city, and the U.S. Cellular Center’s downtown location means that visitors there will also spend money in nearby restaurants and shops, and stay in local hotels. Such a boost, Corl says, is estimated to produce 5,025 additional hotel room stays in the first year.
“This is a great opportunity to showcase Asheville’s downtown,” Corl adds.
As an added attraction, the breakout rooms will double as club seating for events in the center’s arena. For events like the SoCon tournament and concerts Corl expects there to be a big demand for club seating.
Construction on the convention area and rooms is expected to be completed this winter.
The U.S. Cellular Center is undergoing many enhancements now and in the near future, including a new basketball court, new restrooms, box office and lobby reconfiguration and more thanks to funding from the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, U.S. Cellular. Additional funding from the ABC Board contributes to educational programming.
Camping on public property is illegal and a problem from the aspects of both health and public safety. Camping on private property without consent of the property owner is also illegal. When complaints are received from the community, APD gives campers a seven-day notice to pack up their camps. The notification includes contact information to help people get in touch with available service providers.
“We don’t want to go in there and just kick someone out. The overall goal shifts from plain enforcement to letting them know what the available resources are,” said APD Officer Jackie Stepp. “And that we want to see them get off the streets. I think most people appreciate that approach.”
In the video, APD officers, ABCCM Veterans Restoration Quarters, AHOPE and City of Asheville representatives visit illegal camps to find common solutions that work for groups that are often perceived as being at opposing ends of the homelessness issue.
Click here to see more videos on the City of Asheville’s YouTube channel.
ASHEVILLE – The Development Services Center is continuing its emphasis on providing excellent customer service by seeking regular feedback from the people it serves.
Staff recently issued an online customer service survey to gauge their performance. The goal is to keep doing what customers say is working and to improve in areas that customers felt were lacking.
Development Services is the umbrella name for the development assistance and regulation provided by five city departments: the Building Safety Department, Planning & Development Department, Transportation & Engineering Department, Water Resources Department and the Asheville Fire & Rescue Department.
Building Safety Director Robert Griffin, who oversees the Development Services Center, said his staff will continue taking surveys about every other month and that surveys are also being created for inspections and other services.
“We’re establishing a cross-functional team to look at customer service, work flow, and any other identifiable improvement area for recommended changes,” Griffin said. He added that this team will be facilitated by someone outside the development process.
Building Safety Director Robert Griffin stands next to a shelf of submitted development plans.
The overall feedback in the first survey, the results of which came back just recently, was positive. The majority of respondents (about 83 percent) came to the center to submit or pick up permits. Of that pool, some 94 percent said they were greeted promptly, and 83 percent said staffers were helpful and polite. Some 66 percent said they were able to meet with a city staff member within 15 minutes of their arrival at the center.
Respondents who met with a Development Services Center Plan Review staff member assessed them very highly: 88 percent said plan reviewers were professional, and 82 percent said reviewers were helpful and polite. Moreover, 94 percent of respondents said staff explained processes to them in a way they could understand.
In response to some respondents’ concerns about sign-in procedures and wait times, Griffin said front counter staff has been reorganized.
“Their additional function is to make sure every customer is signed in, receives service, and is updated when the time is longer than anticipated,” Griffin said.
He added that the center has changed the intake process for certain permit types to allow customers to have information entered into the computer system in a more timely way.
One survey respondent wrote of being impressed by a staff member’s work ethic: “The plan reviewer I met with said he needed to come back into work later that evening to catch up with paperwork. I was surprised that a public employee cared that much. With no pay.”
ASHEVILLE – The Greater Asheville Public Service Council recently recognized the most outstanding government public servants with the Excellence in Public Service Awards.
The awards were presented to county, city, state and federal employees who went above and beyond their normal job performance in 2010.
The City of Asheville honored nearly 70 employees from a wide variety of departments. The winners in the 12 award categories were announced in April at the city’s Excellence in Public Service Awards ceremony. These staff members were then invited to the Greater Asheville Public Service Council breakfast ceremony in late May.
Awardees are selected by an internal panel of the past year’s winners.
Hank Dunn, president of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Buncombe County Commissioner Carol Peterson, and David Pattillo, associate director of the Charles George VA Medical Center, presented the awards in each category.
Fay L. Smith, Library Technician with the United States Air Force’s 14th Weather Squadron was chosen as the overall Outstanding Public Servant of 2011.
Thanks to the work of the employees listed below, hundreds of thousands of dollars were saved, work was done more efficiently and Buncombe County is a safer, greener, healthier, smarter and kinder place to live.
City of Asheville Landscape Architect Seth Hendler-Voss receives his Excellence in Public Service Award for Outstanding Professional Employee.
Outstanding Executive Manager
Cathy Ball, Public Works director, City of Asheville
Ed Sheary, library system director, Buncombe County
Dr. Jack St. Clair, business manager, Black Mountain Neuro-Medical Treatment Center
John J. Bates, PhD, National Climatic Data Center
Jerry Yates, streets operations manager, City of Asheville
Jill Moffitt, director of campus recreation, UNC Asheville
Trevis Allen, assistant fire marshal, City of Asheville
Renee Gossett, social work supervisor, Buncombe County
Nicole Lynch, health care supervisor, Black Mountain. Neuro-Medical Treatment Center
Micheal Hunsucker, chief climate operations, U.S. Air Force 14th Weather Squadron
Outstanding Professional Employee
Seth Hendler-Voss, landscape architect, City of Asheville
Bryan Dillingham, network manager, Buncombe County
Kathy Wallace, creative arts specialist, Black Mountain. Neuro-Medical Treatment Center
Helen McVade, information security, U.S. Air Force 14th Weather Squadron
Outstanding Administrative Support Employee
Gina Zachary, administrative assistant, City of Asheville
Joy Pelto, paralegal, Buncombe County
Marcia Hipps, administrative assistant, District Attorney’s Office
Anne Markel, administrative assistant, National Climatic Data Center
Outstanding Trades, Crafts, and Service Maintenance Employee
Gordon Silvers, apparatus senior specialist, City of Asheville
Carolyn Nash, housekeeper, UNC Asheville
Outstanding Technician, Assistant or Aide
Megan Shepherd, special projects coordinator, City of Asheville
Anthony Perrone, graphic designer, Buncombe County
Justin Page, senior designer, Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College
Fay Smith, library technician, U.S. Air Force 14th Weather Squadron
Asheville Public Safety Wireless Network Team
Buncombe County Detention Facility STORM Team
Outreach Dental Services – Black Mountain Neuro-Medical Treatment Center
NCDC Finance and Acquisition Branch
Hoyt Abney Outstanding Community Service Award
Lora Morgan, administrative assistant, City of Asheville
Vanessa Grant, staffing specialist, Charles George VA Medical Center
Adam Reagan, applications specialist, UNC Asheville
Outstanding Contribution to Improving Diversity
Kelley Webb, fire department public information officer, City of Asheville
Tina Carroll, community director, UNC Asheville
Outstanding Heroic Act Award
Lee Morrison, motor equipment operator III, City of Asheville
Lisa Beasley, income maintenance caseworker II, Buncombe County
Suzanne S. Turner Unsung Hero/Heroine Award
Mike Dixon, laborer, City of Asheville
Dr. Cynthia Yancey, medical director, Buncombe County
Mark Clegg, social worker II, Black Mtn. Neuro-Medical Treatment Center
Douglas Williams, human resource specialist, Charles George VA Medical Center
The HRC, formed in 1979, is made up of of members appointed by Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commissioners, and meets once a month to review applications and discuss guidelines for historic districts.
To keep the public up to date on the evolution of the HRC and the facts surrounding National Historic Districts and landmarks, the HRC is preparing to launch its own E-newsletter. “We want to reach out and educate people about what it means to live in a historic district as well as keep people up to date about changes,” says Stacy Merten, who serves as staff liaison to the HRC and as Director of the Historic Resources Division of Planning & Development “We are in the process of evolving the HRC guidelines and the development approval process and we want to spread the word as much as possible.”
Recently, application submittals for Major Work Certificate of Appropriateness and review of Minor Work applications for Certificate of Appropriateness was moved to the City of Asheville’s Development Services Center located in the Public Works Building at 161 S. Charlotte Street to bring them under the same roof as other city permits.
Last year, the HRC updated its design review guidelines for the Montford Historic District to address community concerns, and potential updates are being discussed for the St. Dunstan’s Historic District.
And an upcoming initiative co-funded by the Historic Preservation Trust Fund and Buncombe County is expected to add ten acres and 35 structures to the Downtown National Historic District.
“There’s just a lot going on,” Merten said. “And the commission saw a chance to keep people up to speed.”
Asheville residents are known to pay close attention to planning and development issues in their area, and no one has a better handle on the makeup of neighborhoods than the people who live in them. That’s why the City of Asheville’s Planning and Development Department has a group of planners who regularly interact with residents, neighborhood associations and other groups to hear ideas about growth and development.
Assistant Planning Director Shannon Tuch and Urban Planner Alan Glines at a Haywood Road Corridor meeting in April that was also attended by representatives of the Community Relations Division and the Office of Sustainability. Glines is the Planning Liaison for West Asheville.
Teams of Community Planning Liaisons are assigned to five sections of the city to focus on listening to input and use it to determine neighborhood priorities and help direct planning efforts. They are also a point of contact for land use and development questions. The program, begun about 18 months ago, has already resulted in an increased level of interaction between residents and city staff. And, says Planner Jessica Bernstein, residents have a first line of communication with the Planning and Development Department that can help navigate the department and city ordinances.
“[Planning and Development Director] Judy Daniel wanted each section of the city to have a point of contact,” says Bernstein, who serves as liaison for North Asheville. “If they have a question, we can get them to the right person to talk to. They have a go-to-guy.”
The Planning and Development Department also assigns a “Planner of the Day” (POD) each day to field calls or talk to those who come to the Department, and direct them to an appropriate city staffer that can address their concern or question. POD’s are assigned at City Hall and at the Development Services Center, as those locations each tend to get different types of questions.
Meeting with community members and having an ear open to feedback also helps the department identify trends and issues from the community, and have a chance to get residents thinking about planning and development issues long before a draft document comes to Asheville City Council.
“So often, when planners were seen in public, they were presenting development staff reports,” says Planner and Central Asheville liaison Blake Esselstyn. “We felt it was important to get neighborhoods involved with development, and we could take a proactive role in making that happen.”
Community liaisons share notes with each other to find trends that are common to all neighborhoods or issues that may cross over into two or more different sections.
So far, says Neighborhood/Volunteer Coordinator Marsha Stickford, residents have responded enthusiastically. “We get calls regularly,” Stickford says. “It really does foster this idea that we’re all in this together.”
Stickford, who works in the city’s Community Relations Division, regularly takes note of upcoming neighborhood association and other community meetings, and makes sure that the appropriate community planner is notified. She encourages organizations that meet about planning issues to contact her so she can pass the word along to the right person. “If we know they are out there, we can make that connection,” Stickford says.
To contact Neighborhood/Volunteer Coordinator Marsha Stickford about a community or neighborhood meetings, call (828) 259-5506 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
The annual point in time count that tracks the demographics, causes and population of those experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness in the Asheville and Buncombe County community takes place on Wednesday, January 26. The count, which is used to provide accurate data about the state of homelessness in the community, constitutes a partnership across multiple city and county departments, agencies and stakeholders.
This number reflects an estimate derived from the annual Point in Time Count. This year the count takes place on Wednesday, January 26th. Staff from homeless agencies, volunteers, and people who are experiencing homelessness will work together to count everyone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness on the night of January 26th.
In addition to shelters and other housing programs, the Buncombe County Department of Social Services, Buncombe County Jail, police from Asheville, Montreat, Biltmore Forest, Black Mountain, Woodfin, and Weaverville, the Mission Hospital, the Charles George VA Medical Center, United Way’s 2-1-1, and agencies that provide crisis services to people in our community will help with the count.
Data collected during the count includes demographic information, causes of homelessness, where people are sleeping, and information about chronic homelessness, veteran status, and other subpopulation data. The count will include individuals and families staying outside, in shelters, and in other housing programs for people experiencing homelessness.