The Family Justice Center in downtown Asheville serves as the headquarters for Helpmate, a domestic violence agency serving Buncombe County. Several other nonprofits and county agencies are also housed in the building. Colby Rabon / Carolina Public Press

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Asheville is on the brink of significantly expanding shelters for victims of domestic violence and homelessness. 

Pending the Asheville City Council’s official approval, three nonprofits will receive millions in American Rescue Plan Act money that will be used to establish nearly 200 beds for unhoused people and domestic violence victims. 

“We really do consider this a life-or-death project,” said April Burgess-Johnson, executive director of Helpmate, Buncombe County’s domestic violence service and shelter provider. 

Helpmate is slated to receive $1.5 million in ARPA dollars, according to the city staff’s recommendation. The organization will use the money to build a new shelter with the capacity for 43 domestic violence victims. The current DV shelter can house only 20. 

When someone is seeking shelter, Helpmate employees gauge victims’ need for a bed based on the immediate danger they’re in. 

“How likely is the victim to die if we don’t intervene right now?” Burgess-Johnson said about the “danger assessment.”

Helpmate workers then determine which victims are most in need of shelter, which means others seeking help, who were not determined to be in such immediate danger, would be sent to a shelter in a different county. 

With the help of ARPA, this issue, which has impacted much of Western North Carolina, will be less frequent. The $1.5 million in ARPA funds from Asheville will assist Helpmate in establishing 23 more beds — a figure that Burgess-Johnson said was calculated based on current domestic violence occurrence data and Asheville’s projected population growth for the next 20 years. 

The shelter will set Asheville up to be prepared to take care of victims during their most vulnerable times. Helpmate also requested and is awaiting rulings on funding from Buncombe County’s ARPA allotment and Dogwood Health Trust.

But domestic violence victims aren’t the only ones who will benefit from Asheville’s nearly $26.3 ARPA allotment. City officials recommended 14 other nonprofits to receive the funding after grading the organizations’ applications for the funds.

Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, or ABCCM, is one of those city-selected nonprofits. The City Council will vote to award the nonprofit just short of $1 million for a shelter specifically for women and children experiencing homelessness. 

“Roughly 26% of Asheville’s homeless are single women and moms with children,” ABCCM Executive Director Scott Rogers said, referencing the latest count of the city’s homeless population. 

“Our waiting list has been as high as 300.”

ABCCM currently has a shelter for women and children experiencing homelessness, but it has only 100 beds. The nearly $1 million from Asheville’s ARPA bucket gives the organization the opportunity to build a facility and add 84 beds — putting it closer to the ultimate goal of 300 beds for women and children. 

ABCCM has also applied for ARPA funding through Buncombe County and will look to private donors for the remaining $2 million needed to secure the 300-bed goal. 

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has specific guidelines for what ARPA money can be used for. Expanding social services by funding nonprofits is among the acceptable uses. 

But Asheville officials doubled down on the federal government’s ARPA rules after receiving their first disbursement last year. The city committed to only fund nonprofits that aligned with what Asheville’s ARPA website calls “guiding principles” — initiatives that use an equity lens, invest in resilience, align with the council’s priorities, focus on impact, leverage partnerships and consider long-term effects. 

City staff, who received applications from more than 80 nonprofits, deemed the proposed projects by Helpmate and ABCCM in line with those principles. 

A project by Homeward Bound of Western North Carolina to transform a Days Inn into a permanent supportive housing facility for the area’s chronically unhoused — those having experienced homelessness for more than 12 months — also made the cut to receive Asheville’s ARPA dollars. 

If the current recommendation is approved by the City Council, Homeward Bound of WNC will receive just less than $1 million for the project, which will provide 85 efficiency apartments to those who have struggled to secure housing for years. 

“It was needed before the pandemic, and it was needed even more so during the pandemic,” Jenny Simmons, Homeward Bound’s grant management director, said about the permanent supportive housing, which offers scaled rent and social services to tenants.

While the federal government designed ARPA to recover communities from the economic wreckage of the pandemic, the money doesn’t have to be spent solely on COVID-related recovery projects. It can also be spent to address inequities in housing, services and infrastructure that made living during a pandemic difficult. 

It’s also one-time money that must be allocated by December 2024 and spent by December 2026.

Even though Asheville took several months to accept nonprofit applications and determine where the money ought to go, officials from those organizations said the lengthy process didn’t have an impact on their ability to execute the projects. 

“(The process is) understandable considering this is federal funding, and you need to make sure that you have all your i’s dotted and your t’s crossed,” Simmons said. 

“So yeah, they took extra time, but it’s important to take the time to actually get things correct.”

The Asheville City Council will vote on the recommended ARPA allotments during its May 10 meeting. 

Recipients list

Here’s a list of the other projects recommended to receive part of Asheville’s $9.8 million allotment for nonprofits and social services:

  • Litter & Cleanliness Program, city of Asheville
  • Increasing Access to Affordable Housing, Thrive Asheville
  • Domestic Violence Intervention Program, SPARC Foundation
  • Mobile Meals Expansion, Food Connection Inc.
  • Continuum of Victims’ Services, The Mediation Center
  • Clean-Energy Upgrades for Low-Income Housing, Green Built Alliance
  • Community Engagement for Equitable Response, Young Men’s Institute Cultural Center
  • Equity & Resiliency Thru Affordable Homeownership, Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity
  • HELP2Day, Eagle Market Streets Development Corp.
  • Homeless Services Program, Elaida Homes Inc.
  • Southside Kitchen, We Give a Share Inc.
  • Mountain Community Capital Fund Expansion, Mountain BizCapital Inc. dba Mountain BizWorks
  • COA Inclusive and Accessible Government, city of Asheville CAPE
  • Modernization and upgrade of downtown bathrooms, city of Asheville

Shelby Harris

Shelby Harris a Carolina Public Press staff writer, based in Asheville. Email her at sharris@carolinapublicpress.org to contact her.

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