By Todd Cohen
GREENSBORO, N.C. — When the Rev. Mike Aiken became its executive director in October 1985, Greensboro Urban Ministry was in financial crisis.
“We were really struggling,” says Aiken, an ordained minister of United Church of Christ who for the previous eight years had served as executive director of Fayetteville Urban Ministry. “We didn’t know if we could meet payroll.”
But the agency turned its finances around and since then has grown significantly in its efforts to serve people in need.
Aiken, who plans to retire on June 30, 2015, says the biggest challenge facing the population the agency serves is homelessness, and he says he will continue to be part of local efforts to end it.
Twenty-nine years ago, Greensboro Urban Ministry served 5,000 to 8,000 people a year and operated with an annual budget of roughly $150,000 and a staff of 20 people.
It operated a food bank and provided emergency assistance for people in need of food and financial assistance for rent and utilities. And it had just opened its Potter’s House community kitchen; its night emergency shelter for single adults, now known as Weaver House; and its Pathways Center family shelter.
Over the years, the number of people all those programs serve have grown, and all now are located in new facilities.
Today, the agency serves 35,000 to 45,000 people a year and operates with an annual budget of nearly $4.9 million and a staff of 35 people working full-time and 30 working part-time.
Over the years, it has added Partnership Village, a housing community for formerly homeless families and individuals that includes 24 three-bedroom units, 12 two-bedroom units and 32 studio units; Urban Ministry Clinic, which still is housed at Greensboro Urban Ministry but now is owned and operated by Triad Adult and Pediatric Medicine; and a chaplaincy program that provides pastoral care to clients, guests, volunteers and staff and includes three staff chaplains, interns from the divinity schools at Wake Forest and Duke universities, and a resident from the Department of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Education at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
Greensboro Urban Ministry also has launched a “rapid rehousing” program, known as Beyond GUM, that puts families and individuals in housing as quickly as possible and provides supportive services as needed.
The agency also is a member of Partners Ending Homelessness, a coalition of of local groups working to end homelessness in Guilford County.
The number of chronically homeless people at any given time fell to just over 100 in September from over 200 in 2007, according to “point-in-time” counts. Chronically homeless people are those who have been homeless multiple times in recent years and have serious disabilities, usually involving mental health or substance abuse. They represent 15 percent of the homeless population in Guilford County.
And, thanks to a grant from the Phillips Foundation, the partnership now fields a mental health team to work with the chronically homeless.
“Our biggest challenge is completing the game plan and ending homelessness, starting with veterans, then the chronically homeless, then the situational homeless,” says Aiken, who will continue to serve on the partnership’s board of directors. “I’m going to see this through.”