In Asheville, the nonprofit Homeward Bound creates pathways to housing. They endeavor to end chronic homelessness in Western North Carolina by moving people into permanent housing and providing the support needed to stay. Meredith Switzer, executive director, believes this is critical work for the community. She spoke to Rodrigo in a recent podcast.
“The key to ending homelessness is to provide housing,” she said. After that, Homeward Bound provides attentive support with mental and physical health and other services. This will ensure their clients stay housed safely and sustainably.
Switzer is excited about their new initiative – the Key Commons community. Currently, Homeward Bound works with landlords to provide low cost apartments. At Key Commons, the nonprofit owns the property for the first time.
Homeward Bound is a unique and special organization. They work with people who are chronically homeless who often lack social or family support and have medical and mental health challenges. Because they’re living in a state of crisis every day, homeless citizens develop survival skills and coping mechanisms in a different way than people in stable homes. Homeward Bound offers educational opportunities to fill those gaps. From simple things like turning off appliances and lights to how to budget income effectively, they try to cover all their clients may need.
Meredith Switzer, Executive Director
Meredith Switzer is relatively new to Homeward Bound, but not the area. She is a 21-yr resident of WNC and worked in the nonprofit world for many years. Switzer began last fall as interim executive director when Homeward Bound was searching for new leadership. Once she was familiar with the organization, she felt called to the work and didn’t want to walk away. Switzer took on the role permanently in April 2019. The organization runs well due to the board of directors and the amazing staff. They’re well-trained but come to the table with big hearts, which is essential. This is the most important work she’s done in her career, she said.
“Lives are literally being saved because of the work this organization does.”
Switzer is always in awe of the resilience of the Homeward Bound clients. They face unimaginable challenges. There are so many factors to how a person becomes homeless, she said, and it comesdown to the lack of a support system at the right time. One incident happens and, without proper support, creates a ripple effect. Meredith conveys her compassion for community members in every conversation with the public.
Homeward Bound now owns and manages their own affordable housing development, Key Commons. They have had great experiences working with landlords, but were challenged when providing subsidies. In a high-demand area like Asheville, landlords raise rents as market value and costs go up. This adds strain to the organization’s budget.
Through partnerships with the city, the county, stakeholders, and private donors, Homeward Bound closed on Key Commons in October 2019. They are beginning renovations and some residents have moved in. The project will have 14 units when complete.
The most important part of Key Commons, Switzer said, is controlling the entire process. Homeward Bound decides who is best for the affordable properties, and gives full support once they are moved in. That ongoing community is the difference between Key Commons and other housing plans like Section 8. Homeward Bound serves as a responsive landlord with a better understanding of client needs. They will offer medical help, transportation, case management, budgeting assistance and more – full service for their clients’ unique needs.
Homeward Bound Going Forward
Switzer hopes this property will become a model to replicate in the future. They will base their success on their clients – are they “able to live happy and healthy in an environment for the rest of their lives”? That will be the true test.
One new project the organization is currently raising capital for is the Asheville-Buncombe House. This will be an 80-unit building for the chronically homeless with 24-hr security, on-site case management, and program space. The Woodfin is an existing smaller model. Homeward Bound regulates visitors with high level of support and control, putting the client first.
Homeward Bound will continue to run other programs including their day center, AHope. There, 175 clients per day find Homeward Bound. They consider this the “front door” of the organization, and all are welcome. AHope serves as a mailing address for homeless clients, which is incredibly valuable. In addition, Homeward Bound offers crisis assistance. They step in and prevent clients from losing their homes. They also provide housing deposits for veterans in need.
To learn more and volunteer, visit homewardboundwnc.org. Reach out to leaders, donate, or take a tour of AHope. There are many ways to get involved, from mail sorting to event setup and crisis assistance. They will find the perfect fit for anyone to help out.
Stay tuned for updates on their ownership projects!