There are high hopes in Asheville for two former hotels converted into permanent housing for the chronically unhoused. The first of them up and running is Compass Point Village, developed and managed by the Asheville nonprofit Homeward Bound. The second, due to open in mid-2024, is a private, for-profit development that will convert a former Days Inn into a 115-unit complex called Step Up.
Today's guests are David Nash, the interim executive director; and Jenny Moffat, permanent supportive housing director, of Homeward Bound. We talk about the path that led to conceiving and developing Compass Point Village and the range of support available to Compass Point’s residents. We also get into how, even with these projects, Asheville’s affordable housing crisis will continue adding people to the rolls of the unhoused.
This is the second part of a series of episodes this week focusing on housing Asheville's chronically unhoused.
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Jenny Moffat: There's a full range and it's going to vary per person and what their particular needs are.
But in general, we are Doing everything from connecting folks to a primary care physician to helping them connect for food stamps, helping them get connected with behavioral health or substance use partners. We're trying to help folks learn how to use computers and learn how to apply for jobs. And so there's a really full range of what case management can look like.
And we are Very dependent on partnerships with other agencies in the community. We specialize at Homeward Bound in housing. Housing is what we do. We want to get people in and get them stable. We want to partner with other agencies in our community who specialize in things like behavioral health and substance use and primary care and dentists and eye doctors and...
Matt Peiken: Can you talk about the challenge of that? Is every one of these other agencies that are on top of Homeward Bound, is that just another point of bureaucracy and waiting for people that there's more demand for services than there is capacity?
Jenny Moffat: Sometimes, I think, if we're trying to help someone engage a disability case to get SSI or SSDI, that can take a really long time.
It can take years to gather the information you need. If we're trying to get someone in for a primary care referral, that can happen in a day. Yes, most agencies in our community are understaffed or have had a lot of staff turnover, which has been the trend in our country the past couple of years.
And at times that has slowed the process down. But in general, the folks we're working with, they're they might not specialize. Specifically in homelessness, but they care a lot about the people in our community that need support. So we don't have a hard time getting agencies to work with us and work with our clients.
But sure, there's red tape and lines and that sort of stuff, particularly around behavioral health.
Matt Peiken: Now, I know, David, you've only been at Homeward Bound for a little bit, but you've worked in this. field for over a decade.
Talk about what you've seen in terms of the magnitude or the growth or not of problems with mental health regarding the unhoused community today versus maybe five, 10 years ago. Is there a difference?
David Nash: I think there is a difference. I'm not sure how huge it is. What we saw, especially maybe Starting five years ago and especially through the pandemic, was a very significant increase in unsheltered homelessness in our community.
The number went from 65 ish in, in the 2020 point in time count to over 200 in 2022. And that that Is in part due to the pandemic, just that some shelter operations had to be scaled back to some extent, but also has to do with, significant changes in affordable housing availability in Asheville.
The cost of housing has gone up dramatically in the last five years, and especially since the pandemic. And homelessness is primarily associated with lack of affordable housing, not with substance use or mental health. A lot of folks we see living on the street do have Behavioral health issues and substance use issues.
But the vast majority of folks who are homeless are homeless because they can't afford the housing market here. I don't think I answered your question. I think there has been an increase and the other factor that has significantly impacted us is the dramatic growth in the illegal opioid distribution over the same rough time period over the last five
Matt Peiken: years.
I think a lot of people believe that being unhoused is a choice for many people. And in what you're working with the chronically unhoused, can you speak to that, Jenny, about the choice or absence of choice there that from what in the reality of it that leads to becoming homeless
Jenny Moffat: I don't believe that people ever choose to become homeless I think that for a lot of people in our community With the issues with housing costs are a couple paychecks away or one health emergency away from being in a housing crisis and I believe that we as a community really have to focus in on this affordable housing issue before we can really even touch or completely solve this issue around behavioral health and Substance use, but most of our clients have been outside for years and.
They hit a bump in the road somewhere along the way. They didn't have a support system in place. And so they ended up outside. And, through a series of events a lot of times it's just a coping skill that they've learned is using substances to try to stay awake at night or substances to try to sleep during the day or years of sleeping on benches and on the ground and your body starts to deteriorate and hurt. So a lot of times these folks aren't necessarily. Choosing to use, and they're also not in most cases, I've not worked with anyone that has ever said I chose to be homeless. This was my dream, to live outside for the rest of my life and not have clean water and not have a place to store my food. Yeah,
Matt Peiken: did you read the story in the New York Times, it was a long feature article just about a week ago, about a woman, In Seattle or outside of Seattle, who was earning 72, 000 a year and living out of her car because she couldn't afford touching on what you're talking about, David the key here, affordable housing, that she just couldn't afford a place to live where she lives.
And so she'd been living out of her car with her daughter for, and her, it was an adult daughter that for a few months at that point, are you finding that affordable housing? And we all know that the prices of. The rental costs, not to mention the purchase costs in Asheville are only going up. Are you finding situations where many of your clientele, the unhoused, are working?
That they are functional in that sense, but just still cannot find a place within their price range to live. Is that an everyday reality here?
David Nash: I think that is an everyday reality broadly in the community. I think the... Clients that Homeward Bound primarily works with are folks who have been homeless for a long time and that group does tend to be folks who have either developed mental health or physical health conditions while homeless or had them before they started.
But there are a lot of people out there who are living doubled up with others who are, I don't know how to quantify the number of living in their cars, but I think You know particularly that the other factor in Asheville and I think across the country is short term rentals, you know when short term rentals started coming In, we saw a dramatic reduction in the sort of naturally occurring affordable housing in our community and that hurts people at the margins the most, the people who are, living paycheck to paycheck
Matt Peiken: To be clear here, just to be clear that you're talking about, so short term rentals like Airbnb and the like, that they take away housing stock and drive up the prices of rentals?
Correct. Now we're dovetailing into Compass Point. Give me a sense of the projects that Homeward Bound undertook that were in the way of developing long-term housing solutions for the unhoused. What up until Compass Point, what has been Homeward bounds entries into this?
Jenny Moffat: up until this point we've worked with a lot of private landlords in our community, and we've also worked For many years with the housing authority here in Asheville We have some great relationships with landlords We have a whole team of staff that's their job is to recruit and really Care for landlords and be the person that can step in and help mediate issues with residents.
What we found was that we do have a percentage of this chronic homeless population who needed more support than traditional case management offered where I have a case manager and they probably have 18 to 20 people on their caseload and they're seeing them out. in the community at their home once, twice, three times a month.
There was a group of folks who needed to be able to have more frequent case management that needed support around guest management. A lot of times if you've been homeless and you have camped or sheltered with other people that are part of your homeless community, those are your people.
And so when you get housing, the people that you have camped with would potentially come to visit and maybe they stay longer than you would like them to stay. And, or I feel like I, Owe this to the people that I've been camping with and we've done each other favors. And so sometimes units got to a point where there were just too many people in there.
And so one of the things that we did in 2017 and we partnered with the housing authority at that point with David, and we master leased. An apartment complex that the housing authority owns on Woodfin Street, and we tried this idea of having supportive services on site.
As we moved people in, their case managers were on site. We also offered 24 hour access control to the building by having some safety advisors on staff who are able to check guests in and also we were able to control a little bit better who was coming in and out of the building. A lot of these folks are really vulnerable to be taken advantage of and so part of this is a way to try to keep folks safe .
Matt Peiken: So David, Talk about this development on Woodfin Avenue. Describe it to me and what purpose it served.
David Nash: Woodfin Apartments is right at the corner of Market Street and Woodfin. And it's an 18 unit apartment building with I think they're all one bedroom units.
There may be some efficiencies. The Housing Authority received funding in the early 2000s to acquire and renovate that property. It was. Specifically, special needs housing assistance from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency. So from the time it opened in 2006 until the current day, it's been primarily focused on serving people experiencing homelessness.
The idea of a a focused approach with on site. Case management and with access control with, essentially security staff on the property came up more recently in around 2017 and that's when that collaboration started.
Matt Peiken: And was this a first of its kind in this region? It
David Nash: was
Jenny Moffat: in Asheville, first of its kind for Asheville/Buncombe County.
There are other communities across the country that are doing similar things. We as an agency worked pretty closely with another agency in Charlotte that had been doing a similar project. So we started this Woodfin collaboration and quickly saw that it really did help folks stabilize.
We saw a lot of success for people being able to stay in housing long term.
Matt Peiken: Is this what proved to be a litmus test in a way? A pilot for what CompassPoint was proposed and will be?
Jenny Moffat: Yeah, in a lot of ways it really was. Homeward Bound for years had Really started to understand that it made sense for us to also.
Be a landlord in some scenarios while we Will always be dependent on private landlords in our community and those partnerships you know, we are working with some folks whose needs are pretty great and That a typical landlord is not trained in behavioral health and things that they need to be able to accommodate that Clients particular needs
Matt Peiken: and let's say not only training, but it takes a certain Space in your soul, right?
It's a mission based work, right? Because most landlords given the choice of Taking on a client who doesn't come from an unhoused background versus an unhoused background. I would imagine just on the face of it, that's your primary challenge. It's just getting landlords to not have an alarm go off in their head.
Not have a red flag immediately about that. So I can understand you taking on the sense of ownership in that way and not even having to deal with landlords. This present itself. Talk about how compass point the genesis of it even developed. It sounds like Homeward Bound had an interest around doing something like this, maybe even before the Days Inn became available.
Is that true? Or was it the availability of the Days Inn that made you say, aha, here's our
Jenny Moffat: No, as an agency, we had really already been investigating land to either be donated or purchased to build from the ground up. And during the pandemic, this trend of Taking older hotels and renovating them into apartments became something we were seeing more frequently across the country.
So we had architectural plans, ready for building from the ground up. And so it was...
Matt Peiken: Oh, so you were looking at land to start totally from the ground up. We were.
Jenny Moffat: Wow. And it made sense to really consider this property that already existed on Tunnel Road. Partially because of where it's located and that it was not downtown, but still pretty convenient to downtown and services that our folks use regularly.
It's on the bus line, so folks could get around Asheville as they needed. And also it was at a price point that made sense for us to really think about. Is this the right choice for us to make at this time?
Matt Peiken: So talk about the scope of CompassPoint. What does this project afford you to do now? What are you able to do now that was only on your wish list before?
Jenny Moffat: I think it gives us a lot of space in a really prime part of Asheville for residents again, for it to be convenient for them to get to the grocery store, to doctor's appointments. The property itself when we first started looking at it. We'd had a vision of building an apartment complex, and then you're trying to figure out in your head, how do we turn these motel rooms into apartments?
So it took some time to work through what could this really look like. The property itself gives us a lot of community space. There's three buildings. The one main building has, a really nice size dining area. Things that we probably wouldn't have built out, and because the space existed at this particular property, we've been able to decide how we wanted to use it.
Matt Peiken: Now this is 87 units, correct, that this is going to offer? Now, what kind of renovations had to happen? Are each of them self contained in the way, do they all have a kitchen? I know they obviously all have bathrooms, because they're hotel rooms. What modifications had to happen to make this habitable on a full time basis.
Jenny Moffat: Yeah, we did a lot of renovations in the units. It was an old property. Those buildings have been around since I believe the late 60s early 70s the two buildings that became the apartments and there are some additions later, but we did go in and renovate and add a small kitchen to each unit.
They obviously have a bathroom. There were some, a lot of infrastructure work that went into getting the units ready as far as new electrical systems, new fire rescue systems. There was a lot that just needed to be done in a property that old.
Matt Peiken: What are services that are going to be offered on site and what are going to be maybe off site but? dedicated to the community at compass point
Jenny Moffat: Right now our partnerships so far and we're continuing to build these we are working with sunrise recovery center and they are running a peer living room out of One of the renovated conference room areas at the hotel.
And they're there five days a week to meet with folks who are interested in talking about recovery and kind of sharing their personal stories with folks. We're also partnering with Equal Plates, which is a local non profit who is helping support food scarcity in the community.
And right now they're providing one hot meal a day for residents. We're also working with Manna. They'll start coming in, I believe, the first time in two weeks. Again, food scarcity is a very common problem for folks who have been experiencing homelessness.
Matt Peiken: Are there going to be addiction support services on site?
Jenny Moffat: Part of that is what Sunrise is there to do. They're there to talk about folks about recovery, to offer groups and help folks if they need to go into detox or that sort of thing to help navigate that process with them. Our case managers also know the systems.
in our community pretty well to help folks in those areas. Right now we just started partnering with Appalachian Community Health Center for medical support there so their van came. This past Monday for the full day and we'll be coming every other week for a while again to just try to get folks connected with the care they need there.
Matt Peiken: How does compass point compare or contrast to what the Woodfin apartments are?
David Nash: Compass Point is a huge expansion of what Woodfin was able to provide. So there are 85 rental units, 87 people as you mentioned at Compass Point. And there were 18 at Woodfin Apartments. There was no significant space for community services at Woodfin.
It was basically a... Small entryway and elevator and stair, some hallways in a relatively small apartment building. At Compass Point, it's a much broader, in addition to the residential units, there, there are units that have been renovated for a medical clinic.
There's an office visiting space for these peer counselors who can work with people on substance use. And then there are at least two or three other spaces that additional partners could use for behavioral health services and that sort of thing. And there's space for all of the Homeward Bound staff who are supporting the residents and other Homeward Bound staff who need to be there.
Are all in one location or almost all, not the whole agency but a significant number of support staff in one location with room for supportive services by other agencies and the folks being able to live there with we haven't talked too much about the resident safety advisors, there's 24 seven security at the front desk to make sure that people coming in are You know, guests That the residents want to see and just to keep the residents safe in their units.
Matt Peiken: Is there a certain accountability among the tenants there, beyond just what would be a typical rental, you pay your rent every month, and you have your key, you come and go as you want when you rent an apartment. Is there any accountability with this population to check in about certain things, or any testing, or is there, that they have to go through any, Job training, I'm just curious, once somebody is a tenant there, are they a tenant in the way that any other apartment tenant would be?
In the general public,
Jenny Moffat: they are. On the tenant side of things, there's no additional things they have to do to be able to live there as a participant of Homeward Bound's case management. We're asking folks to commit to meeting with case managers regularly, but that is all voluntary. As a housing first agency, we want to let The folks who we're working with make decisions on their own and we're trying to give them advice along the way.
Matt Peiken: So it's offering services, but there's nothing mandated like you must go to treatment if you have addiction issues. Nothing like that. Is there any cost to the tenants of living at Compass Point?
Jenny Moffat: We do have a number of clients that have no income. So for them, the voucher that they've received a housing choice voucher would Pay their rental subsidy.
For residents who do have income, a lot of residents have disability income. 30% of their income is required by HUD that they pay towards rent. So we have some folks that are paying 30% and some folks that aren't paying anything only 'cause they simply have no income.
Matt Peiken: Is there a length of time, is there a cap on how long somebody can live at Compass Point?
Jenny Moffat: No, it's permanent housing, so they can live there as long as they need to stabilize.
Matt Peiken: Now you talked at the very beginning of this conversation, you deal with the chronically unhoused, and right now we're, you were talking about somewhere in the hundred and fifty somewhere on there, am I remembering that correct,
Jenny Moffat: that there's I believe it was high one
Matt Peiken: twenty something.
Okay, one twenty. So eighty seven units is a huge. Subtraction from that, right? How long will it take you to fill up your housing? I know, I understand people are already moving in.
Jenny Moffat: We're about halfway there right now.
We have about half capacity by the end of the first week in November. It'll be at 100 percent capacity.
Matt Peiken: Now we're talking about roughly two thirds of the chronically unhoused population, there's still some people who won't have housing. through that. Is there competition? Like, how do you choose from person A from person B? How does that happen?
David Nash: We have a process in the community, and this is part of the continuum of care group that we talked about earlier that prioritizes based on vulnerability. And based on length of time homeless so there's an evaluation done of every person and based on their physical health, their mental health their length of time homeless. The ones that are, The most vulnerable on the street are the ones who are prioritized to come in first.
Matt Peiken: Now, Compass Point Village, combined with Step Up, whenever that does open, I know there are problems right now with that, but from what I understand, that even with these problems, they're expecting, or hoping that this will open by somewhere in the first third to halfway through 2024 They're talking about more than a hundred tenants in their place. Assuming step up does happen, will that combined with Compass Point Village, will that eliminate our chronically unhoused problem in Asheville for at least the next year or two plus?
Jenny Moffat: I would like to say yes, but no, it won't. Why is that? Partially because that point in time number that we counted chronic is a little low. Again, it's not easy to track everyone down who's experiencing homelessness in one night. And get an accurate count. Our community does the very best they can, but we are seeing more people.
enter into homelessness than we have in previous years because of cost of living in our community and cost of housing. And so our day center that we run on North Ann Street, AHOPE they're seeing an increase. in volume. Even with Compass Point, yes, we are making a significant dent in the current unhoused, chronically homeless population.
And Step Up's project will also make a significant impact. But our community needs at least two, maybe three or four more of this type of project for us to really get to a point where we are ahead of The curve on trying to get folks into housing fast enough that they never reach the point of chronically homeless.
Matt Peiken: So it seems like even though right now, uh, if, correct me if I'm not characterizing this correctly, that this train of the unhoused is only going faster. There's more and more. You're catching up to it with Compass Point Village and Step Up will help maybe even get ahead briefly. But you're saying this is...
Unabating the affordable housing issues continuing to be only more and more of an issue and that we need in this community, two or three more compass point villages to happen to really get a handle on this. What are your next steps beyond running compass point village, which is going to be a tremendous challenge.
I imagine going to be a focus of your staff and its capacity. What are next steps for Homeward Bound?
David Nash: I think you've identified the next step, which is getting Compass Point Village up and running and finishing up some few things to be done on the construction phase of that
I think as a community, we do need to start planning for the next permanent supportive housing, whether that's a hotel conversion or some other option, and I know that right now, the city and county are focusing on developing a high access shelter, looking permanently toward that, which I think is important to And we need to also be looking toward the next permanent supportive housing option