Open Door Community Center to offer shelter for women, children

Published 7:26 pm Friday, June 23, 2017

Finally, homeless women and children in Beaufort County will have a place to sleep. A non-profit is moving ahead with plans to establish a shelter, the first of its kind in the county.

Board member of Open Door Community Center, a project started in 2016, have recently taken trips to view nearby shelters to gain inspiration for their own.

“We visited several homeless shelters just to get a feel for what they’re doing and how they operate,” said Dot Moate, president of Open Door.

The group visited Greenville, New Bern, Tarboro and Wilson. A representative from a shelter in Roanoke Rapids came to Washington to provide advice.

“They’re all different,” Moate said. “They’ve got a common thread, but they’re all different.” For example, the Tarboro shelter houses men and women, and the Greenville shelter is much larger than what Washington’s will be.

Charlie Mike Smith, a retired minister and volunteer with the program, described that common thread.

“Having a really good person in charge is crucial,” Smith said.

The purpose of Open Door Community Center is to “serve the basic needs of the women and children of Beaufort County … who seek safe shelter and the nurture of their bodies, minds and souls,” according to its mission statement.

While Open Door has not yet moved into its shelter, they are zeroing in on a location and aim for it to be operational by the first of the year, according to Moate.

The shelter will provide temporary housing to up to 16 women and children at a time, said Moate. The goal is to provide safe harbor and help residents to move out and get back on their feet within 60 days.

Lee Kinney, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Washington and Open Door board member, describes homelessness as a “chronic condition,” and said it often goes unnoticed by many community members.

Smith said that problem is exacerbated when it comes to women.

“Women are just more hidden, I think traditionally,” he said. “Men, you see them hanging around more, so they’re the ones who get your attention first.”

Smith suggested that could be the reason why Beaufort County has had a shelter serving men for decades, but none for women.

Contributions from local churches have been crucial, said Moate.

Much of the fixed costs have been paid for by a grant from the city or donations from the community, whether monetary or “brick and mortar,” as Kinney calls gifts of building supplies for the shelter and offers to do landscaping work.

However, the annual operating costs will be funded primarily from community donations and churches. First Presbyterian Church has already raised around $40,000 for Open Door and allocated funds in its budget, Kinney said. Other churches are getting on board as well.

The project, which began as a United Way taskforce on homelessness, has grown to involve members of the whole community, Kinney said.

While the organization still has to clear some bureaucratic hurdles, such as obtaining a permit from the Board of Adjustments, Moate, Kinney and Smith are excited about Open Door’s future.

“I think this is something that the community can rally around,” Smith said. “There’s no question that this is a good and needed thing.”