City sees opportunity for new homeless shelter

Jan. 03, 2014 @ 08:49 AM

What began as a costly problem for the city of Lenoir has turned into a timely opportunity for the city to gain a full-time homeless shelter.

The city started work in October to repair a sinkhole that opened on West Avenue near Lenoir Building Supply where a long-forgotten box culvert failed, allowing water to erode the earth around it.

The repair project, estimated to cost $1 million, called for demolishing the former Carolina Custom Cabinets building, creating a stormwater retention pond and replacing the damaged culvert.

But after acquiring the building, city officials saw that part of it could be saved and thought of a use for it: a full-time homeless shelter, something the county desperately needs, said Sharon Osborne, the director of Caldwell County Yokefellow, a crisis assistance agency that operates the current, part-time shelter -- the Lenoir Emergency Outreach Shelter, also known as LEOS Place -- at the former Lenoir High School gym.

“Caldwell County is the only county in a large area that does not provide for a 24/7 shelter,” Osborne said. “There’s a serious need in the community.”

Using the gym for a shelter creates scheduling issues because the gym also is used for community events and youth sports.

The main problem, Osborne says, is that the current shelter opens too late, 9 p.m.

“It will make a significant difference in the community,” Osborne said, adding that the homeless population in Caldwell County is on the rise.

The location of the proposed new shelter is considered ideal, near Yokefellow and the Lenoir Soup Kitchen, and plans are for the shelter to be open full-time and have separate men’s and women’s bunks, a laundry, kitchen and a room to house shelter staff.

Lane Bailey, Lenoir city manager, said the city has been working with Yokefellow to plan the shelter. The city will soon begin installing a sprinkler system, which will cost about $20,000. The estimated cost to get the shelter going is about $180,000, Bailey said, but the city doesn’t anticipate spending anything other than the $20,000 for the sprinklers. Officials hope local churches, civic organizations and concerned citizens will pitch in for the rest.

Osborne has no doubt the resources will be there.

“I have every confidence in this community,” she said. “Those of us who serve this population every day, we are so very excited."