Monday, November 28, 2022

City to donate former fire station land, partner with Good Shepherd for homeless housing

With assistance from a city land donation, Good Shepherd Center will redevelop a former fire station to house the homeless. (Port City Daily/file)

WILMINGTON — If all goes according to plan, a former fire station site will take in nearly three dozen homeless people in a new initiative between the city and Good Shepherd Center.

Wilmington Fire Station 6 could become a place for chronically homeless adults with disabilities, including seniors and veterans. City council is hoping to vote on donating the property by September.

WFD vacated the building at 3939 Carolina Beach Rd. in 2019 when it consolidated services from stations 5 and 6 into a new firehouse on Shipyard Boulevard.

“Permanent supportive housing is used nationally,” Good Shepherd executive director Katrina Knight said. “It’s a heavy lift, but if done right it helps that small sub population of actually achieving and maintaining housing stability.”

A city spokesperson confirmed Good Shepherd will be responsible for raising and providing the money needed for the redevelopment process. The city doles out annual funding to the nonprofit through its competitive grant process and community development funding. In both fiscal years 2021 and 2022 Good Shepherd received $4,240 each year, with a major bump to $24,000 for fiscal year 2023.

The city explained it funds programs, not organizations, and Good Shepherd submitted an application this year for a new program, accounting for the increased allocation.

Knight said it will require a mix of public and private funding sources to get the project off the ground.

Good Shepherd is one of the largest providers of homeless services in the region. Its campus at 811 Martin St. provides services for the homeless day and night, offers free meals through its soup kitchen and operates a medical clinic. Over the course of a year, more than 150 homeless women, men and families transition from shelter to housing within the community; nearly 2,000 unduplicated individuals utilize Good Shepherd’s food resources and around 600 take advantage of the shelter.

The organization has previously collaborated with the city on a similar project, State Employees Credit Union Lakeside Reserve, which offers 40 units of supportive housing.

SECU funded $1 million of the $5-million affordable housing complex, which took shape in 2016. The remaining was raised via private and public grants and contributions. The shelter is a former Adrian B. Rhodes Armed Forces Reserve Center that was demolished in 2014. It’s located at 2144 W. Lake Shore Drive, behind Legion Stadium.

Also on site are case managers and services including transportation, counseling and skills training. Knight confirmed this new initiative would be modeled off Lakeside Reserve, providing full-time support to “keep the wheels from falling off again.”

“This is best practice housing intervention to end homelessness of your more chronically homeless folks who also have special needs of some kind,” she said, using examples of a serious medical condition, mental health issues or a combination of both.

Tenants are charged 30% of their income, skewed to zero. Meaning for those who don’t currently have an income, it does not prevent them from attaining housing, Knight confirmed.

“It’s no surprise we have found that having a reliable roof over your head and a place to call your own results in people’s physical and mental health,” Knight said. “And the use of the ER and hospitals drops overall by 75%, and 100% for some.”

Before the former WFD site can be converted, the Wilmington Planning Commission will consider Aug. 3 a rezoning of the property from a residential district to high-density multiple-dwelling district. If approved, the decision will go before city council — who will vote to donate an acre of land to Good Shepherd for redevelopment — in two months.

The city will then bid out the work to demolish the existing structures before the nonprofit can build 33 affordable housing units. The initiative will also include intensive case management services for those in need.

“It’s for those that need not just a light touch but more attention,” Knight said. “It’s making sure they’re getting the connections they need out in the community, developing life skills needed to remember what it is to be a successful neighbor again.”

Finding affordable housing opportunities for residents has been a priority for the city over the last two decades. The city has invested more than $52-million to over 1,300 created units.

“Housing affordability is of paramount importance and something we’re working to make a reality for people from all walks of life,” Mayor Bill Saffo said in a press release. “By leveraging existing city resources, we aim to build on the success of our partnership with the Good Shepherd Center so that more people will have access to safe shelter and vital services. Strong community partnerships and innovative approaches are helping Wilmington to lead the way in this critical work.”

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