NEWLAND — Avery County Commissioners held a public hearing at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Sept. 19, to discuss applying for a Community Development Block Grant.
The grant in question would allow the county to build re-entry or transitional housing. If awarded the grant, the county would then have to run the facility itself, but it is looking at using opioid settlement funding to assist with operations. Once the housing system is established, funds will become more available, said Commissioner Dennis Aldridge.
The sheriffs in both Avery and Mitchell counties have written letters of support for the re-entry housing program. Mayland Community College and Freedom Life Avery have also written letters of support, Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier said.
“It’s going to take the entire community, number one, to support Freedom Life, just that program on its own,” Barrier said. “We’ve said that from day one. If the community’s not behind it, it’s going to fall on its face, and this re-entry housing will definitely fall on its face if we don’t have community support.”
The housing would have to be temporary – just until individuals are able to get back on their feet, Barrier said. Re-entry programs can help people who have recently gotten out of jail or prison find jobs. These programs provide access to resources that are vital in ensuring that people don’t stray down the same path they were on before incarceration. Barrier mentioned possibly putting the facility on Old Prison Camp Road, which would be close enough to Mayland that people utilizing the facility could easily get there for GED purposes, resume building or any other resources that may help them out. The facility would have around six bedrooms that could possibly house two people in each room and would have communal areas such as kitchens, bathrooms and meeting rooms, said Michelle Ball with the High Country Council of Governments.
There are additional logistics that would have to get worked out down the road, such as transportation for people without cars or licenses, but that didn’t deter the commissioners. Despite the challenges that may come later on, everyone seemed to be in agreement that re-entry or transitional housing is something Avery needs. The nearest facility of this nature currently is in Asheville, and apart from there, the closest ones are in Sylva, Durham and Rocky Mount, Ball said.
Chair Martha Hicks noted that it would be a lot of work, and everyone agreed, but all of the commissioners present voted to approve the resolution to apply for the grant. The deadline is next Wednesday, Sept. 28, but if the county doesn’t get the grant this year, it can always apply next year, Ball said.
“I believe in this program, I believe in the Freedom Life Program,” Barrier said. “I believe it’s gonna be a game-changer.”
Ellie Lecka, founder of Avery Animal Support, came to the meeting to comment on Avery’s lack of animal control services and extended her hand to help the county in any way she could once the process of implementing animal control begins. Lecka has an extensive background in animal services, so she knows the requirements for facilities and has contacts in other counties that may be helpful, she said.
Lecka was joined by Newland Mayor Derek Roberts, who stated that he, along with Elk Park Mayor Daniel Boone, would like to see Avery get animal control services as soon as possible. Roberts said he spoke to Banner Elk Mayor Brenda Lyerly after the meeting and said she agreed as well.
“There’s no question that you folks want to help,” Roberts said at the meeting. “So what do we do? How do we get a plan?”
The county is working on the situation, but similar to broadband, workforce housing and the drug crisis, it’s not an issue that’s quick to be resolved, Barrier said. Lecka is receiving more help from the sheriff’s office now, she said, but there’s only so much the deputies can do without somewhere to keep the animals. Barrier encouraged Lecka and Roberts to share any information they come across with him that might be helpful in this process, and he said he would let them know when the county has meetings about this topic.
In other news and notes:
- North Carolina is planning to implement a program called Shine a Light of Hope in support of veterans. From November 7 to Veteran’s Day, all county buildings will be lit up green to recognize and support the county’s veterans. There will be a resolution presented at the next meeting regarding the measure.
- The board voted to sign a solid waste disposal agreement with Eco Safe Systems.
- The board approved Josh Smith to be appointed to the Avery Mitchell Yancey Regional Library Board.
The next Avery County Board of Commissioners meeting will be at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 3.