a true story from the path outreach team
As I watched Robert interview Ronnie on the outskirts of a wooded area in East Asheville, I thought back on the words that I had read in Kathy Izard’s book, “The Hundred Story Home: A Journey of Homelessness, Hope, and Healing“:
“…the weight of bulging backpacks and tugging bags that held the remaining contents of a life somehow lost… everyone was here because they had nowhere else to go.”
Ronnie and his girlfriend Christina* had just moved their campsite to a new location because their previous site had been destroyed by someone. They had to move on.
The life of people without homes, who live outside, is one of constant motion; moving around to avoid the police, and business owners and individuals who don’t want them on their property. Having them around is not good for business and can be frightening for families and neighbors. These are the folks that Homeward Bound’s PATH team members are reaching out to, and trying to bring inside.
PATH is a team of three – Kate, Robert and Christian. Their job is to find people living on the streets, in cars and campsites, build a trusting relationship and connect them to community resources such as community mental health and primary care providers, social security and disability income sources, and ultimately to develop a plan for housing.
Finding a home is not easy in Buncombe County, even if you are a person of means. The availability of affordable housing is less than 1% and Homeward Bound struggles to find appropriate homes for our clients. But before that search can begin, the PATH team works to find those who need housing the most.
The process looks something like this: PATH gets a call from the Asheville Police Department and staff goes to the location specified. Very often, they find the campsite but no one is there and they leave a note with their contact information.
The day I was with Kate and Robert, we saw two empty sites and at the third one, we found Ronnie and Christina. Both were hot, tired, eaten up by mosquitoes and eager to leave their difficult lives behind. Kate had met the couple several months ago and engaged Christina in conversation while Robert asked Ronnie questions to determine his level of vulnerability – how long had he been homeless, did he have income, had he been arrested, was there substance use, mental illness, HIV AIDS? Robert asked these sensitive questions with compassion and respect and without a trace of judgement, and in turn got mostly honest answers from Ronnie.
If all goes according to plan, Ronnie and Christina will be added to the waiting-list for housing. Unfortunately, the path to housing in Asheville is a long one. However, that does not deter the PATH team. They meet people where they are – in the woods, under bridges, on the street – and work diligently and compassionately to bring them inside.
Resource Development Director for Homeward Bound
*Names have been changed to protect the couple’s anonymity.
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