Local businesses frustrated by homeless

Published 5:16 pm Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Boyce McDonald took a nap on a retaining wall near Aquadale Road Tuesday morning, just a short walk away from the tree he usually sleeps under. 

McDonald has been homeless for four months. After his immediate family members died about a year ago, he sold his home and property for $21,000. 

“I couldn’t take care of it, and I didn’t need it,” McDonald said. 

After McDonald sold his house, he got a job a Nance Auction picking up and delivering items that had been purchased from there. He was paid $8 an hour. 

“It’s just gone downhill from there,” McDonald said. “Now, I couldn’t drive for nothing.” 

McDonald said he fractured his shoulder in two places after hanging around the car wash at the Quick Shop on South Second Street. He couldn’t explain exactly how he hurt his arm. 

Because of his injury and what he called poor working conditions, McDonald said he was forced to quit his job. He said he hasn’t found work since. 

McDonald said he has moved around quite a bit within Albemarle’s city limits. He said he first settled behind the old bowling alley on East Main Street. After some time, he made his way over to the area near Stanly Community Christian Ministry on South First Street, before settling under a tree a block away from the Quick Shop.

“I’ve come to this side of town because I can go to the store and go to the soup kitchen,” McDonald said. 

McDonald said his girlfriend picks him up sometimes and lets him shower and clean up at her house. He said he would move in with her if she had the space for it. 

“She lives in a two-bedroom house with seven other people,” McDonald said. “I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty crowded to me.”

According to McDonald, he has stayed out of trouble with the law. Despite this, at the Albemarle City Council meeting Aug. 5, some citizens voiced concern about homeless people loitering by their businesses. 

Carolina Oil owner Greg Underwood, along with Josh Amick, owner of the Breakfast Nook property, reported on an increasing number of homeless people who have been creating problems in and around their businesses on South Second Street.

“Since the Heart of Albemarle closed, we are having more and more homeless loitering in and around our businesses,” said Underwood, who reported he had observed tents in the former Market Basket grocery area across the street from Carolina Oil.

“We have come in as early as 4 a.m. and found people sleeping under our awnings and picnic table,” Amick said. “Our person who opens often has to spend extra time picking up trash and cigarette butts that have been left on our patio and in our parking lot.”

Amick noted one instance of a person who was hiding in cars at an adjacent repair shop while panhandling.

“He would hide in a car next to the Breakfast Nook, and get out when customers pulled up and approach them asking for money,” he said.  “I asked him to leave multiple times, and he was eventually arrested.”

Underwood admitted that while he does not have an immediate solution for the problem, he offered to assist in any capacity.

“We need a deterrent,” he said.

Albemarle Police Chief David Dulin said educating the public is key to solving the problem, and that day shelters in many communities have helped as well.

“Many of these people are in this situation because of drug abuse,” Underwood said.  “My brother, who is a deputy in Union County, has said that addressing the problem of substance abuse (particularly opioids) early in school has had a preventive effect there.”

Councilwoman Martha Sue Hall suggested county officials be contacted, noting that a recent grant for the purpose of combating opioid abuse could possibly fund programs for this purpose.

Skeet Ayscue, executive director at Homes of Hope in Albemarle, believes his organization is taking the right steps to ensure a better future for the county’s homeless population. 

Homes for Hope is an organization that provides housing to the homeless for a reduced rental rate. In 2005, the organization started by helping one family move into a home. After a few months, they were up to six families. 

“We pretty much knew we were on to something then,” Ayscue said. 

Just this week, the organization moved its 100th family into a unit. Since its beginning, Homes for Hope has added other services for the homeless to help them get jobs, fight addiction and purchase a home of their own. 

“We try to address all of the issues that lead to the homeless situation,”Ayscue said. 

Ayscue believes the lack of affordable housing is one of the biggest contributing factors to homelessness. To combat this, all houses provided by Homes for Hope are priced below market value. 

“All the income-based apartments and public housing have long waiting lists,” Ayscue said. “When our families move out, we want them to be financially stable.” 

Besides drug addiction and opioid abuse, Ayscue said there are other reasons someone may find themselves in an unfortunate situation. He said low paying jobs, health issues and domestic violence also play a role. 

In 2009, the same people behind Homes for Hope opened the Community Inn in Albemarle, a kitchen that provides three free hot meals a day for the homeless and less-fortunate. The Inn also offers housing from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. 

The Community Inn is a about a quarter-mile away from Carolina Oil and The Breakfast Nook. Because of this, Ayscue believes the homeless may be settling there temporarily, because they have no other place to go. 

“If you want to help, support organizations like ours who are trying to get stabilized, so they don’t have to hang out in those places,” Ayscue said. 

Ayscue said its unlikely the issue of homelessness will be solved completely. He said some people will never be able to hold down a full-time job, or be able to purchase a house, because they are not built for it. Despite this, Ayscue said Homes for Hope will continue to help however it can. 

“We’re trying to do the best we can,” Ayscue said. “Sometimes we can get them into other programs in other counties, but there’s a long waiting list for things like that.” 

To operate, Homes for Hope has been largely dependent on local churches and businesses for donations. Ayscue said one business donates one meal per person per day at the Community Inn every night of the year. He said the donations equal about $40,000 worth of food annually. 

There are also a decent number of staff volunteers who help with the organization. Ayscue said he appreciates the support from the people of Stanly County and he hopes to see it grow. 

“We’ve lasted this long because we have community support,” Ayscue said. “That makes a really big difference.”