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Groce Methodist Repurposes Faith Buildings to Housing for Homeless

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After seven years of visioning, exploring and deliberating, Groce United Methodist Church created homes that changed the lives of two previously homeless people.

Homeward Bound clients Dan, a veteran, and Tish, formerly a participant in Room in the Inn, went from homelessness to living in comfortable, safe and secure apartments surrounded by a caring community.

It all began in 2010, when Jim Ariail attended a meeting where the Homeless Advisor for Asheville City Schools talked about families dealing with homelessness. Ariail was inspired to do something that would help keep families together. His church had an old but solid building called the Epworth, that was underutilized and he thought that, with some renovation and restoration, it could be transformed into homes for the homeless. Homeward Bound was on board immediately to provide homes for two clients.

Program Director for Homeward Bound’s Room in the Inn Sharon Blythe said, “Groce United Methodist Church is paving the way for our local faith communities to step up and step out of our comfort zones. Providing affordable housing for those experiencing homelessness is a wonderful way to repurpose faith buildings that are not in use. Groce UMC is a long-standing Room in the Inn partner and we are excited that one of our clients now calls their location home!”.

Ariail brought his housing idea to the board of Trustees. The board knew this new concept of a faith community delving into the housing business would be met with mixed feelings, so they held town meetings that allowed their congregation to weigh in. Financial concerns arose and the project was put on hold for a period of time.

But, Ariail, Pastor Gerald Davis and others’ passion for the project kept it alive, so they created a task force to explore who might be doing a similar project and if they should keep it going. The City of Asheville became aware of the Epworth project and was in full support.

“We were pleased to be a partner in this project,” said City of Asheville Community Development Manager Heather Dillashaw. “This is just the type of private-public venture that the City wants to fund. We hadn’t been involved in an affordable housing project this small before so we used the Epworth as a pilot. We were very happy with the result and would like to invest in more projects like this.”

The church secured $30,000 in no interest funding from the City of Asheville’s Housing Trust Fund and took a bank loan for the rest. With financing secured, they found builder Jim McBride, who finished the project nine months later.

“In fulfilling our ongoing commitment to address the needs of our neighbors living on the margins, the Blue Ridge District is thrilled with the launch of the new Epworth Project at Groce United Methodist Church in partnership with Homeward Bound,” said Beth Crissman, District Superintendent and Missional Strategist for the Blue Ridge District of the United Methodist Church. “What a privilege and exciting opportunity to create space and grace for our neighbors transitioning from homelessness to being home-secure!”

Homeward Bound WNC is a social impact nonprofit that is ending homelessness in Buncombe County. Homeward Bound’s methods are based on the national best practice model Housing First which involves moving people into permanent housing first and then providing the support they need to stay there. With the support of the community, Homeward Bound has found homes for more than 1,840 people and 89% have not returned to homelessness.

For more information about Homeward Bound WNC or if you are a faith community interested in transforming underutilized buildings into homes for the homeless, please contact Sharon Blythe at [email protected] or call 828-776-9741.

(Image: Homeward Bound staff Jeremy Glidden and Miranda Masters move clients Dan and Tish into new apartments at the Epworth building.)