Trinity United Methodist in Asheville is the newest Code Purple shelter

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Working to meet the community’s emergency shelter needs, Trinity United Methodist Church in West Asheville now serves as a shelter option on Code Purple nights.

Its goal, said Amanda Pace Kollar, a Trinity volunteer and the shelter’s operational director, is to serve the most vulnerable members of an already marginalized community.

Starting January 4, he was able to officially join the effort as a Code Purple shelter. With a capacity of about 23 people, the church’s Fellowship Hall is strewn with mattresses and blankets. Colorful art is nailed to the walls.

A charging station, arts and crafts table, and kitchen are available, and residents can safely leave their belongings, with storage often a major concern for homeless people.

“We aim to be a solution,” said Dustin Mailman, director of Family and Ministries and Missions at Trinity.

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The Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Coalition calls a code purple when temperatures are expected to drop below 32 degrees.

When called upon, area shelters and other organizations are expected to provide emergency shelter overflow for the more than 500 people estimated to be homeless in the event of extreme weather.

Until last week, only ABCCM Costello House and the Salvation Army were available for emergency shelter.

With 50 beds, the Costello House serves single men and the Salvation Army can accommodate about eight women and children.

Melanie Robertson, co-chair of Trinity’s personal/parish committee, said she noticed gaps in service, with those who were further marginalized and faced barriers to entry into other shelters – such as couples, transgender people and gender non-conforming and people with service dogs and pets.

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The first night it was open, the shelter took in a whole family, parents and two boys, ages 12 and 14, Robertton said.

In the rapid spiral that often precedes homelessness, Robertson said the family watched jobs disappear and savings slip away until they were living in their van with nowhere to go.

After two nights at Trinity, and with the help of shelter partnerships with other community and nonprofit organizations, the family qualified and were placed in a permanent housing program through the Salvation Army.

“That’s what happens when we can come together,” Robertson said. “We couldn’t do it on our own.”

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The church and its community partners have been meeting as a steering committee over the past few weeks, hoping to see the agencies “break out of silos and overlap resources,” Robertson said.

Attending its Jan. 12 meeting were some community leaders, including Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer.

In a Jan. 13 email to the Citizen Times, Manheimer thanked organizations offering stopgap measures and temporary housing options for homeless people. In this list, she included Trinity, ABCCM, the Salvation Army and a number of other partners.

“There is agreement that our community needs a high-access shelter, and there is also a general understanding that due to the challenge of the business, collaboration is needed to achieve this goal” , Manheimer said.

She said the city, Buncombe County and the Dogwood Health Trust were working together to explore the best approach for a high-access shelter.

At the Jan. 11 Homeless Coalition meeting, Emily Ball, homeless services system performance manager for the city, said the three entities were working to develop a charges for a future RFP.

The objective of the RFP is to hire a “national consultant” with experience in responding to homelessness.

Ball said there is currently no timeline. She did not respond to questions about the availability of funding or the specific assignment of the consultant.

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“We want to make sure we get it right,” Manheimer said of the collaboration.

“As we watch cities and counties across the country scramble to try to solve the escalating homelessness crisis, we feel the same urgency here. But we also see concepts thrown and dropped. We need solutions for Asheville and the Buncombe County that are not temporary but permanent and better serve the community.”

Trinity ‘aims to be a solution’

Trinity’s entry into the Code Purple scene came in November, when Code Purple parties were called with no shelter options available.

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Trinity and other community partners stepped up and provided six nights of temporary emergency accommodation over Thanksgiving week.

Starting January 4, he was able to officially join the effort as a Code Purple shelter.

Watching camps being bulldozed and camp areas cleared, Mailman said, laid bare the needs of the community.

“We need to have those voices here,” Mailman said. “We need to know what the people who are staying in these encampments, who are lying in the bed that is directly behind you, what their needs are? It’s not what we think their needs are.

During its last week of operation, the shelter did not reach capacity. On his busiest night, there were about 15 people.

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Although he only saw nine nights of the operation, Robertson said she felt the guests had found a sense of community.

Run entirely by volunteers, the shelter receives no funding from the city and runs on donations. Each evening, various community partners stepped up to serve lunches or drop off needed supplies.

Among its missions, Trinity helps connect people to permanent housing through its partner agencies.

Kollar described the joy of seeing their guests open up, like Amanda, a trans woman who briefly stayed at the Costello house before finding a better fit with Trinity.

In the middle of a January 13 interview with the Citizen Times, Kollar received a text message. She read it aloud to Robertson, who sat across from her at the low, round table in Fellowship Hall.

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Amanda was texting him, Kollar said. She had just been admitted to the Transformation Village, a transitional accommodation run by ABCCM.

Robertson clapped his hands and slammed both palms on the table. Neither of them could stop laughing.

“I get cold bumps up and down,” Robertson said. Then, “We’re just going to miss her.”

Purple code options

Asheville’s Code Purple is extended through January 16. The options are:

ABCCM Costello House for men, 141 Hillside St., 4 p.m. and all night plus law enforcement and paramedic escorts after hours.

Salvation Army for women and children only, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Law enforcement or paramedic escort allowed after hours, 828-253-4723.

Trinity United Methodist Church, 587 Haywood Road is available overnight for families, couples and other vulnerable individuals who cannot access other options. Entrance for overnight stays is from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Law enforcement or paramedics after hours, 828-253-5471.

Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Current advice? Email [email protected] or message on Twitter @slhonosky.

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