WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Homelessness is a growing problem in the Port City and Wilmington Downtown Inc. is looking to help address it through a new pilot program and hiring of an outreach specialist.
This street outreach specialist will be tasked with meeting with people who might be without a home in the downtown area and connecting them with the services already provided by different organizations. The new role will help with transportation to and from social service providers to ultimately help get them off the streets by helping address the hurdles that many of the unsheltered population might face daily.
WDI President Holly Childs gave city council an update on where the program currently stands and why she thinks it is an important program to have.
“Whether it is getting them to jobs or getting them to social services- trying to figure out how to connect them to those social services. I think there are a lot of great city and county social services throughout the area but one big barrier is transportation, the other is to have an advocate to get people to understand how to navigate the system. So, we think this is a real win,” Childs said.
Mayor Bill Saffo also expressed an interest and a need for something like this.
“While social services fall beyond the scope of city government, we have a shared responsibility to the safety, health, and welfare of our residents – regardless of housing status,” Saffo said. “Right now, we have a gap between the services available and access to those resources. This project will help close that gap and make a real difference in people’s lives.”
Funding for the new position will come from WDI and the Municipal Services District, which encompasses about 70 blocks of downtown, roughly from Fourth Street to the river and from bridge to bridge, Childs said.
Property owners in that district pay an additional tax each year to help fund programs in the MSD, but that also means the programs are specific to that same area.
According to the city, “To kick off the Street Outreach Specialist Pilot Project, Block by Block – a national downtown services organization with a focus on public outreach – conducted a three-day baseline assessment earlier this month. Key findings include:
- An average of 30 unhoused individuals located in the downtown Wilmington MSD, specifically within a walking path between Market and Water Streets, and the block bordered by Grace, Third, Chestnut and Second streets.
- An average of 20 unhoused individuals sleeps downtown overnight.
- Access to a shelter space and shelter availability is limited, likely due to capacity limits and barriers to entry.
- Transportation is a barrier to accessing the proper social services.”
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