The Homestead Park Area is home to several middle class neighborhoods, large student apartment complexes, churches, and a large park in northern Chapel Hill. These neighborhoods are the most ethnically diverse in Chapel Hill, including home to the largest Asian concentration in North Carolina. With much of this area’s population being newer to the area and country, transient, and many from other countries and unable to vote, this is historically a politically weaker area than others in Chapel Hill.
The neighborhoods are full of working and professional families and come from all walks of life. Many are active in their church and volunteer with homeless people and with a variety of other types of volunteer organizations. The area also includes much subsidized housing, student housing, and three trailer parks.
The Homestead Park Area is home to the county’s only women’s shelter. It is also home to the county’s only residential drug program which detoxes 850 clients per year on-site in addition to providing drug rehabilitation, on-site addiction counseling to thousands per year, and on-site halfway house facilities. With the coming addition of a new mens shelter, this area will soon host, in one-fifth (1/5) of a square mile, every at-risk overnight social service in the 400 square mile county. About half of the clients at these facilities are residents of the county and half of the clients reside outside of the county. Thus, these neighborhoods bear the responsibility of hosting at-risk populations for our community as well as the communities around us.
For many years, the downtown merchants in Chapel Hill have been plagued with panhandling, loitering, and drug use issues. One merchant was so fed up with these problems that he sawed off the public bench in front of his establishment and was subsequently charged with damaging public property. There has been much pressure to move the homeless shelter out of downtown.
In the spring of 2008, the UNC Foundation announced that it was purchasing a $46M parcel downtown for a large redevelopment where the foundation will invest hundreds of millions of dollars. The foundation simultaneously announced that UNC was donating land to move the shelter away from UNC’s new parcel. Roger Perry, chair of the UNC Foundation and member of the UNC Board of Trustees whose organizations authorized both of these transactions, was credited by the shelter developer as the person who acquired the land for the shelter.
UNC will most certainly benefit with the shelter no longer being one block away from its foundation’s new $250M+ development which will generate revenue for the university. Homestead Park neighbors awaited details on the shelter move.
These neighbors did not start learning details about the move of the men’s homeless shelter from downtown until late 2009. Even then, there were few details about the operation of the proposed facility. Many questions remained.
Anyone who listened to statements of the mayor, town council, the chamber of commerce, or the developer of this proposed project, would have been led to believe that the old emergency shelter was closing down on Franklin Street and a new transitional-only facility was being opened without the emergency shelter. But that was not to be the case. Neighbors soon found that the written materials contained details, basically as a footnote, that new facility would be BOTH a transitional and an emergency (“white flag night”) shelter.
IFC defined the term “white flag night” in their materials presented to the town and represented these white flag nights as rare events, but the neighbors figured out that white flag night criteria (which IFC may change on its own at a later time) allowed over 200 nights per year.
Many neighbors began to distrust IFC’s spokespeople when they continued to represent white flag nights as rare occurrences in meetings which spanned many months before succumbing to pressure and finally confirming that they actually housed white flag night residents on 197 nights in the prior year. Neighbors began to ask questions about the impacts of having a large, dual-purpose facility in light of the existing facilities, but answers were not forthcoming. Even to this day, due to the way that IFC promoted the facility as a transitional facility, many residents of Chapel Hill are not aware that the emergency shelter is a component of this new facility.
The neighbors did not anticipate the extreme to which IFC and many of its supporters would falsely paint the neighbors as being against the plight of homeless people rather than concerned citizens who had questions and issues with the site as well as the concentration of similar facilities. The neighbors wanted to talk transparently about risks and assurances, but IFC chose instead to denigrate the neighbors.
Neighbors were very disappointed that IFC misrepresented key policies such as admitting men without government issued identification, intaking men who are intoxicated or taking drugs, and allowing drop-ins. These misrepresentations became obvious when presentations and articles would tell the public what they wanted to hear about these policies, but neighbors who asked specific questions and anyone who reads IFC’s neighbor plan in detail would find that IFC’s actual policies were quite different than what was being presented and reported. Neighbors asked IFC to contact reporters to correct mistakes in articles, but IFC refused. In fact, neighbors provided recordings of statements from public meetings IFC made about identification and drunkenness policies to reporters, but the reporters would talk to IFC and then refuse to print corrections. Clearly IFC misled reporters on these topics.
Despite the town council providing clear guidance that no drop-ins were to be allowed, IFC wrote loopholes into their neighbor plan which allows drop-ins and town council refused to close those loopholes after neighbors pointed them out.
The town council was unwilling to acknowledge that the Homestead Park area has reached its carrying capacity for at risk overnight social services and provide assurances that future facilities will be sited with fair share.
The town council changed the ordinances so that this specific project would not have to be rezoned and so that there would not need to be an exception to the 25 bed shelter limit. These changes did not have to be made to approve this project, but “changing the rules” removed the legal protections that existed for the neighbors and allowed the town council to avoid having to specifically document “findings” to override the ordinances in the project approval.
In a classic political move, the town council added a resolution at the last minute to create a so-called “good neighbor plan”. However, this plan was to be completely written by IFC, never voted on by the committee, and developed in a process that was wrought with a plethora of biased representation and process issues.
The media provided biased coverage of the proposed facility and failed to cover issues such as white flag nights as well as incorrectly reporting policies regarding drop-ins, lax identification requirements, and the intake of drunk and high men.
One neighbor, who was not a member of A Better Site and was the only neutral party to be appointed to IFC’s neighbor plan committee, summed up the concerns of the neighbors during council review of IFC’s neighbor plan: “What if, against all good intentions, something bad happens? What is IFC promising the neighbors that it will do?”
Neighbors presented evidence at both of the Special Use Permit quasi-judicial hearings.
ABetterSite reflects upon the backroom deal and failed public processes that resulted in Homestead Park neighbors hosting all overnight at-risk facilities in 1/5 of a square mile in our 400 square mile county with no mitigation of risk and no future fair share policies.
Our "Lessons Learned" is a must-read for citizens who are trying to navigate town and political processes.
This document will be updated on 10/5/15
We want to share the lessons that we learned and start a conversation about how Chapel Hill can improve its public process, both for publicly funded and private projects.
In addition to documenting the unfinished business and the facts about this particular project and process, we provide useful information for other citizens and neighborhoods in their attempt to be heard and represented.
Nothing is more powerful than hearing the story first hand, complete with detailed facts and records.
IFC's Neighbor Plan
The neighbors hoped the plan would:
◦ Stop deferring substantive issues deferred from the SUP process
◦ Provide a level of confidence by defining mitigation for impacts and situations where things do not go as planned
Copyright © A Better Site - Advocating for Public Process for the new men's shelter in the Homestead Park Area of Chapel Hill, NC. All rights reserved.