WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — You most likely watch television from the comfort of your home, but for nearly 600,000 Americans, there’s no TV to watch. There’s no sofa or recliner to relax on.
In fact, there’s no permanent roof over their heads. They’re homeless and they’re vulnerable, but there is an agency in the Piedmont that’s trying to help, and its staff is fighting to end homelessness with support from a local community foundation.
“How we describe ourselves is not just a nonprofit but we’re actually a community of care where people can move with dignity from trauma and homelessness to healing and housing stability,” says Ruth Cole Burcaw, the Executive Director of City With Dwellings.
It’s a nonprofit that’s taking a nontraditional approach to ending homelessness one person at a time because Burcaw says the solution isn’t one-size-fits-all. “What works for Bob might not work for Joe and vice versa, so we work hard to provide solutions that are personalized for them.”
The idea for City With Dwellings began in 2012 when pastors in downtown Winston-Salem churches saw the growing need for shelter during the cold winter. They opened the doors to their churches, but it soon became clear that people who were homeless needed a place to go year-round.
Now 11 years later, support from grants and organizations such as the Winston-Salem Foundation is helping City With Dwellings reach the most vulnerable population.
“We provide community outreach for folks, we primarily serve those who are unsheltered in their homelessness. That means that they’re living in places not fit for human habitation, so on the streets and in abandoned buildings, cars and tent encampments, places like that.”
City With Dwellings is able to house people in its community center. It’s not just a cot with a blanket either. It’s designed to look like a home — a safe space for people to find help and get the support they need to begin finding a permanent home.
“They’re not walking alone, and I think that’s huge,” says Carlos Tolbert, a Certified Peer Support Specialist working with the agency’s HEART Project.
HEART stands for Housing Emergency Assistance Response Team. Tolbert lives alongside people in the program to make sure they have what they need whether it’s access to food or clothing or help with legal problems. But most important, he’s there to talk and reassure.
“People can come and knock on my door at two o’clock in the morning and just say they’re not feeling right, and we can rap, and that’s really the big piece, just being present,” says Tolbert. “I just believe that that support makes a huge difference because they’re not alone.”
Burcaw agrees that everyone should have the support to get a permanent roof over their head and change their lives. “We believe fundamentally that everyone deserves a home and should be able to live in a safe space with safety, belonging and dignity.”
At any given time, more than 200 people in Winston-Salem are homeless. The staff from City With Dwellings reaches out and tries to find solutions for each person.
You can learn more about how to volunteer your time or how to make a donation online at www.citywithdwellings.org.