The long-awaited, much-anticipated decision of who will serve on Waynesville’s homeless task force was announced this week.
The town got a record-setting 32 applications, a testament to growing tensions over a rising homeless population. Given the high level of interest, the town leaders delayed making appointments last month to give ample thought to the right composition.
“Our main goal was to include a wide variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise,” Alderman Jon Feichter said.
The list of names announced at the town board meeting this week is weighted toward those who have a direct role in providing support and resources to the homeless population, however.
About two-thirds of the 21 task force members are affiliated with nonprofits, social support services, churches and helping-hand agencies or have a background in social work.
Only six of the 21 fit the description of being average residents with a presumably more neutral stance on the issue.
The town board had a deep bench of qualified people to choose from, and the choice was a tough one, Mayor Gary Caldwell said.
“I am most of all the applications that we got in were outstanding. We never thought we would get 32 applications. That was mind blowing. and they were great,” Caldwell said.
One reason for stacking the task force with members who have a penchant for helping the homeless is rooted in the task force’s mission: to eradicate or greatly reduce the number of homeless people in Waynesville.
Doing so will require a multi-faceted approach that addresses core causes of homelessness — like affordable housing, mental health, substance abuse and building life skills. Those vested in helping the homeless re-enter society are seen as critical stakeholders in achieving that goal and thus, needed a seat at the table, according to the town board’s discussions on who would serve.
Also given a seat at the table was Joey Reece, who ran for the town board last fall on a platform of needing to address the homeless issue. Reece didn’t win, but attracted a large following who shared his concerns.
He was a vocal critic of sitting town board members for allowing the problem to progress to the point it has.
However, not one but two aldermen had included Reece, who spent his career with the Drug Enforcement Agency, on their list of top picks.
“Most everybody recognized homeless was a major problem in this town prior to the election, but Joey’s advocacy raised the awareness of the issue to a whole new level. As well as his expertise with drug abuse, I think Joey deserves a seat at the table,” Feichter said.
“He represents a large number of constituents,” agreed Alderman Anthony Sutton, who had also had Reece on his list.
Who made the task force?
Caldwell kicked off the task force appointments by proposing nine key stakeholders. The four aldermen then selected three names of their own from the applicant pool. Here’s who each board member appointed:
Mayor Gary Caldwell
• Bill Guy, director of Open Door
• Mandy Haithcox, director of Haywood Pathways Center
• Patsy Davis, director of Mountain Projects
• Brandon Wilson, director of Veterans Services of the Carolinas with Asheville-Buncombe Christian Ministries, serving 49 counties but a resident of Waynesville
• Teresa Pierce, owner of Panacea, representative of Frog Level business community
• County Commissioner Chairman Kevin Ensley, county liaison
• Waynesville Alderman Anthony Sutton, town liaison
• Waynesville Police Chief David Adams (or designee)
• Sheriff Greg Christopher (or designee)
Alderman Chuck Dickson
• Bob Cummings, former non-profit worker in the field of substance abuse and homelessness
• Dale Burris, resident of greater Hazelwood area and former facilities and maintenance director for Haywood County and Haywood County Schools
• Amy Murphy-Nugen, resident of greater downtown Waynesville and professor of social work at WCU, with a bevvy of professional experience as a consultant, nonprofit manager and in community economic development and affordable housing initiatives
Alderman Jon Feichter
• Joey Reece, resident and retired DEA agent
• Juleah Berliner, social worker and addiction specialist with Meridian Behavioral Health
• Nathan Cartwright, peer support specialist with homeless and inmate population who has past personal experience of being homeless and struggling with substance abuse
Alderwoman Julia Freeman
• Linda Nulsen, former social worker and counselor with experience in substance abuse and mental health
• Jon Lynn McDermott, resident of Frog Level who has been adversely affected by overflow from the Open Door
• Neese Morris, resident and downtown Waynesville property owner
Alderman Anthony Sutton
• Joslyn Schaefer, rector for Grace Church in the Mountains located between Frog Level and Main Street
• Laura Howell, resident, who cited the need to balance charity for the homeless with protecting the business economy
• Keri Guidry, case manager at Haywood Pathways Center