Greensboro Urban Ministry works to serve homeless

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — One in four children in North Carolina lives in poverty, including four in 10 children of color.

In Guilford County, public school officials have identified over 2,600 children who are homeless.

“We’re seeing huge increases in poverty and are trying to help families, particularly with children, to get on their feet,” says the Rev. Mike Aiken, executive director of Greensboro Urban Ministry.

Formed in 1967 to help coordinate emergency assistance that local congregations were providing, the agency now serves roughly 30,000 people a year, operating with an annual budget of nearly $3.9 million and a staff of 30 people working full-time and 30 working part-time.

In addition to emergency assistance, which is its biggest program and includes financial assistance, rent, heat, utilities and food, the agency provides a broad range of services, including a soup kitchen, emergency shelter for adults, winter emergency shelter, family shelter, transitional housing, support to get people quickly into their own housing, and a chaplaincy program.

Its Potter’s House Community Kitchen, for example, serves 600 people a day, seven days a week, while its 100-bed Weaver House night shelter served just over 1,300 single adults in 2012.

This winter, it is housing just over 300 additional single adults at its winter emergency shelters.

And last year it housed 61 families, including 71 adults and 135 children, at its Pathways Family Shelter, which includes 16 efficiency apartments.

Greensboro Urban Ministry also operates Partnership Village, a transitional housing community that includes 32 studio apartments for formerly homeless individuals and last year housed 49 adults.

Pathways Village also includes 24 three-bedroom apartments and 12 two-bedroom apartments that together served 42 formerly homeless families last year.

Another program, launched in 2010 and known as Beyond GUM, or Greensboro Urban Ministry, last  year helped 231 individuals and four families move into their own housing.

Beyond GUM reflects a “rapid rehousing” strategy, known as Housing First, that organizations fighting homelessness throughout the U.S. increasingly are adopting.

“The game plan to end homelessness is to get people who are homeless their own home as quickly as possible and to give them as much or as little supportive services as needed to stabilize their lives,” Aiken says.

In Guilford County, Greensboro Urban Ministry is part of a “continuum of care” known as Partners Ending Homelessness, a network of roughly 50 organizations that work together to coordinate services, including the rapid rehousing strategy.

And rapid rehousing is cost-effective, Aiken says.

The cost of housing a family for a month at the agency’s Pathways Family Shelter is about $2,100 a month, compared to a cost of $1,200 a month for a family to pay its own rent and receive supportive services, he says.

“It’s really a lot cheaper if you can get families and individuals directly into their own homes,” he says. “We don’t need more shelter, but we need more permanent homes for people.”

At Greensboro Urban Ministry, which counts on support from individuals for over half its annual budget, key goal is not to build more shelters, Aiken says, but to help families and individual obtain the resources they need to secure “affordable, safe housing,” and to “provide more case management and supportive services to help more individuals and families break out of homelessness and stay housed.”

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