City Leaders Take Steps to Reduce Homelessness

WILMINGTON -- Representatives in three local counties are ready to take strong steps to help the hundreds of homeless people in the area and reduce of number of people without shelter.

There are about 700 homeless people in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties, according to estimates by the Tri-County Homeless Council. But the actual number could be twice that.

The Homeless Steering Committee, formed by Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, is scheduled to meet Thursday for the first time. Its ambitious goal: ending chronic homelessness in the tri-county area.

"I think it's a goal for 10 years," said Community Developer Lillie Gray. "If each year we improve, hopefully, it's progress."

The committee is made up of political and business leaders, along with those who serve the homeless.

Talking about a solution to the homeless problem is something of a departure from the approach taken by city leaders in the past -- when they restricted panhandling and limited areas where private groups could feed the hungry.

"The panhandling ban and stuff like that only served as punishment, not as a solution," Gray said.

While 10 years may seem like a long time to rid Wilmington's streets of homeless people, some say the city's plan needs to be ambitious to reach its goals within a decade.

"It's a good thing, if we can start collaborating on this, " said Katrina Knight, executive director for Good Shepherd Ministries. "Affordable housing is a big thing."

Knight saw a 10-year plan implemented in St. Louis, and she feels it can work here.

"It's something we can't do alone," said Anita Oldham, who oversees various service agencies through Southeastern Center.

Oldham said it will take plenty of teamwork to bring an end to homelessness, but the efforts will improve the lives of people left with little choice but to live on the streets.

Reported by Joe Keiley