Building a new home for the homeless

Jul. 23, 2014 @ 09:24 AM

Elizabeth Norris pointed through walls made only of two-by-fours, telling a group of visitors that this space, now only concrete and bare walls, will be a kitchen, a dining room, a sleeping area — a home for Lenoir’s homeless.

Norris led a tour Tuesday evening of the new LEOS Place, or Lenoir Emergency Outreach Shelter, the only homeless shelter in the area.

LEO’s Place normally operates at the old Lenoir High School gym, providing cots for homeless individuals to spend the night on, but it has many drawbacks, not the least of which are the limited hours – it opens at 9 p.m., closes early in the morning and operates only about five months, from November or December to March.

The new facility was formerly the home of Carolina Custom Cabinets, at 1129 West Ave., and when a large sinkhole opened up in the lot next door last year, the building was nearly torn down. But city officials decided it would better serve the city as a full-time homeless shelter, said Sharon Osborne, director of Caldwell County Yokefellow, a crisis assistance agency that will operate the shelter. Numbers provided by Yokefellow show that in Caldwell, more than 200 people are homeless and in need of shelter.

Osborne said Caldwell County is the only county in this region that doesn’t have emergency housing.

The city has spent $28,000 on the project so far, for a fire sprinkler system and raw materials, said Charles Beck, Lenoir’s public works director.

The total cost of construction will be $175,000, Osborne said, and Yokefellow still has to raise $150,000 of that. Once construction starts, the shelter should be up and running in 90 days.

Multiple grant applications and special gift requests are pending, she said, but she hopes the faith community and local residents can step up and help those in need.

The shelter will have an office for case management and sleeping areas for both men and women, as well as an area for individuals who need special accommodations or for families to stay in together. Preliminary plans show four to six beds in each the men’s and women’s rooms, though “when you see how big they are” there’s the potential for more, Osborne said.

A kitchen and dining room, men’s and women’s restrooms, an intake area, offices, a lounge for volunteers and two large storage rooms are also in the plans for the 5,000-square-foot facility.

“We’re excited. We think it’s a great addition to the city,” said Lenoir Mayor Joe Gibbons, saying the city has known of the need and that hopefully it will be a great fit, “we just need a lot of help. Please give.”

For more information or to donate to LEOS Place, contact Caldwell County Yokefellow at 828-754-7088.