Public housing enables the homeless to thrive in Asheville

By Emily Henderson
Being homeless often involves circumstances out of one’s control.
“I was kicked out of my home when I was 18. The hardest part was not knowing where I would be sleeping at night. For a while I was couchsurfing, and when it got really bad I would sleep in my car,” said 20-year-old Daniella Adarve Cuellar. “The key to avoiding police harassment is to park somewhere no one will notice you, like the dark corner of Walmart, but then my safety becomes an issue.”
In 2005, a 10-year initiative started to end chronic homelessness by 2015 in Asheville. According to the executive summary of this initiative, 2,000 people experience homelessness in Asheville and Buncombe County at some time during the course of each year.
According to the North Carolina Point-In-Time Count for Asheville/Buncombe County in 2008, the total homeless population was 509 for the year of 2008, a decrease in 2012 to 423 people.
According to Banking and Financial Institutions Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, there are three types of homeless. Transitionally homeless have a single episode of homelessness. Episodically homeless have four to five short episodes of homelessness. Chronically homeless have an average of two long episodes, lasting a total of 650 days.
According to the 2014 North Carolina Point-In-Time Count for Asheville/Buncombe County, 533 people are recorded homeless. Out of these adult people, 215 have a serious mental illness, 218 abuse substances and 84 reported as victims of domestic violence.
The Living Wage Calculation for Buncombe County states a single adult must make $9.69 per hour working full time to support themselves.
The 2015 State Minimum Wages reports that North Carolina logged minimum wage at $7.25 per hour.
“It doesn’t seem fair that the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, but in order to support myself I’m supposed to be making $9.69 per hour. I work a full-time job, 40 hours a week, but I’m unable to financially support myself because minimum wage is so low,” said Adarve Cuellar, who currently hosts at a local Asheville restaurant.
According to the Housing Authority Communities in Asheville, housing assists more than 6,500 Asheville/Buncombe residents. Asheville housing owns and/or operates 1,955 affordable housing units and administers more than 1,600 tenant-based vouchers to assist families renting from other property owners.
According to Hillcrest demographics, the population of this community consists of 15,130 people. Crime rate in Hillcrest far surpasses the national average.
Deaverview Apartment complex currently has the highest call for service demands. According to officials, there are 10 registered sex offenders within one mile and the nearest school, Johnson Elementary, has a rating of C minus.
“It’s not the best place to live,” said 27-year-old Jacob Lee, former resident of Deaverview public housing on Patton Avenue. “It’s always loud, there’s a lot of kids, drugs and police everywhere.”
Lee  said he battles with homelessness and works 40 hours a week living paycheck to paycheck and hopes to getting back on his feet after leaving Deaverview. He said it wasn’t a conducive environment for recovering from substances because they were easily accessible in that area.
In 2012, the previous chief of police proposed a grant request to the city manager in order to create a special unit of sworn officers to provide direct law enforcement services to the 11 public housing communities in Asheville.
This proposal asked for $235,859.52 annually to cover the salary and benefits for one sergeant and three officers. A combination of social, economic and crime factors cause a high demand for police services and impact the quality of life for the residents of public housing.
During 2012, the Hillcrest Apartments and Pisgah View Apartments Complex had the two highest calls for service demands in the city of Asheville.
According to Housing Authority Communities in Asheville, public housing complexes work with the homeless to provides affordable housing in hopes that it will enable them to eventually move into a permanent housing situation.
“During hard times, it was somewhere I could call home,” Lee said.