Aiken retiring from Greensboro Urban Ministry

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.”

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.”