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Despite a continuously increasing demand for shelter services, the Hospitality House has made the difficult decision to discontinue the use of all emergency shelter overflow beds, effective immediately. Photo Submitted

Originally published: 2013-07-11 10:02:26
Last modified: 2013-07-11 18:22:05

Hospitality House to cut beds

The Hospitality House has begun to eliminate 10 overflow beds from its shelter as the staff struggles to stay true to its mission with fewer financial resources, the nonprofit announced Wednesday.

When the new facility on Brook Hollow Road opened in March 2011, it included beds for 62 homeless residents. Of those 62 beds, 24 were emergency shelter beds, 29 were family and transitional housing beds, and another nine were long-term housing beds.

Despite the 68 percent increase in beds from the old King Street shelter, there was still not enough room to meet demand, according to staff.

Ten emergency shelter overflow beds -- rollaway beds similar to those hotels offer -- were added to try to keep pace, and the shelter has routinely provided for even more than that on cots, said Todd Carter, director of development.

But now, the current staff is finding that it can no longer provide comprehensive services -- those that go beyond "bed and bread" --  while accepting the larger-than-expected volume of homeless clients, Carter said.

Those services include case management, which allows clients to set goals and meet weekly, one-on-one, to maintain accountability on their progress toward self-sufficiency.

The Hospitality House prides itself on "exiting people into success," Carter said.

"We really regret having to take this action," Executive Director Lynne Mason said. "However, we just do not have adequate staffing to provide effective case management and to safely serve more than originally planned for this facility.

"We look forward to continuing our work helping individuals and families rebuild their lives and returning them to housing stability with great success."

As a result, homeless clients will no longer be accepted if all regular beds are full. However, the Hospitality House will not turn away any mother who shows up with her children and will find a way to "make that work," Carter said.

The nonprofit will continue to offer three daily meals, showers and laundry services to anyone in need.

The residents who currently are sleeping in the overflow beds will not be required to leave. Instead, their beds will be put away in storage as other spots open for them in the transitional housing beds, Carter said.

Carter said the staff and board agonized over how to deal with their current struggles without having enough money to hire additional staff.

"There's always the option of abandoning what Hospitality House is all about, which is helping to rebuild lives," Carter said. " ... We're not a typical shelter. We're a transitional housing facility, and we aren't ready to jump ship yet on what our mission is."

The Hospitality House has lost some funding in recent years from local and other sources. Watauga County commissioners have not provided funding for the last three years, and the Boone Town Council eliminated its typical $10,000 contribution for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Changes to the federal HEARTH Act also have led to delays in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, causing the Hospitality House to spend other money while it waits for funding, Carter said.

Meanwhile, demand for services has increased. The shelter is seeing many more young adults -- those between about 18 and 28 -- this year than previous years, he said.

The staff is working now on devising a system for the winter, when demand for shelter and services is typically at its peak, by appealing to volunteers, community partners and churches.

"We have no idea what it's going to look like," Carter said of the new system.

Some community members have criticized the Hospitality House in recent months for its level of cash and assets.

Carter said much of the agency's assets are two former Hospitality House properties at 302 W. King St. and 492 W. King St. -- properties they haven't been able to sell.

Carter emphasized that the decision to decrease bed availability was not one they took lightly, but one the staff believed would ensure greater success for the clients served.

"We want to say yes to everyone," he said," and hopefully, one day we will again."