RALEIGH — State Rep. Garland Pierce is calling for the establishment of a legislative task force to study what he says is a growing homeless population in North Carolina.
“Homelessness is increasing all across the state,” said Pierce, a Democrat from Wagram whose district includes part of Robeson County. “We won’t be able to get rid of all homelessness, but we need to look at creative ways to reduce it.”
Pierce has introduced House Bill 647 that he hopes will have a hearing before the House Committee on Homelessness, Dependency and Foster Care sometime this week. A hearing on the bill had been scheduled for last week, but it was postponed after two other bills took up all of the committee’s meeting time.
Pierce is optimistic that the bill will be received well in the committee and moved to the House floor for a vote.
The bill calls for the joint legislative task force to consist of 12 members, including: two House representatives and one public member appointed by the House speaker; two senators and one public member appointed by the president pro tempore of the Senate; the leader of the minority party, or his designee, and one member of the public appointed by the minority party leader; the leader of the minority party in the Senate, or his designee, and one public member appointed by the minority party leader in the Senate; and two members of the public appointed by the governor.
The task force would look at methods of addressing homelessness in general, study the needs specific to homelessness in North Carolina, and recommend initiatives that are appropriately tailored to the homeless needs of the state.
One of the models to be studied will be “Housing First,” a method that moves homeless individuals or households immediately from the streets or homeless shelters into their own apartment. “Housing First” bypasses the traditional levels of moving the homeless from streets to public shelters, public shelters to transitional housing programs, and from transitional housing programs to their own apartment. This process has been been reported to have been successful in reducing homeless numbers in several states.
According to the bill, the task force would submit its final report of results and recommendations on or before May 1, 2018.
Pierce said that ways have to be found to reduce the number of people living on the streets.
“Everyone, especially children, needs some kind of permanence, a stable environment in their lives,” said Pierce, who is also a minister. “Families need to be kept together.”
According to Pierce, homelessness is much more than just not having a house to call one’s own.
“People can be considered homeless if they are staying with someone else, sleeping on the floor or a couch,” he said. “They are homeless if they are sleeping on the street or in a car… . Some choose to be homeless, but there are others who are homeless because of such things as job loss or the loss of their homes during a storm.”
Pierce said that destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew brought Robeson County “right to the top” of the list of areas facing major homelessness issues. He did not cite any specific homeless numbers.
“There is now a shortage of housing in the area that has increased homelessness,” Pierce said. “Many of those who provided rentals are not planning to rebuild their destroyed houses.”
Pierce said that regardless of the bill’s fate, he is going to continue efforts to find solutions to homeless problems affecting his constituents in Robeson, Hoke, Scotland and Richmond counties. He said he still has options, including requesting Gov. Roy Cooper to establish a statewide homeless task force, or establish his own regional task force to study homeless issues in the four counties he represents.
“If the governor feels there is a need, he can create a statewide task force with the stroke of a pen,” said Pierce.
As of late last week, the House Committee on Homelessness, Dependency and Foster Care had still not set a time to discuss Pierce’s bill. According to Pierce, however, if the bill is to be acted on this legislative session, it will have to be approved by both the House and Senate by Thursday, the deadline for bills to crossover between the House and Senate.
“We just have to wait and see what happens,” he said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.