An organization called HERE in Jackson County has proposed to permanently manage the homeless program for local leaders.

The start-up agency was founded last summer and is working toward achieving nonprofit status, the group’s Board of Directors President Destri Leger told commissioners during a May 23 budget work session. The “HERE” in its name stands for “Housing Equality Resources and Education.”

For now, the organization would continue the program’s hotel model, in which prices for rooms are negotiated with local hotels to keep the homeless population indoors during the winter. The goal, however, would be to move toward a brick-and-mortar shelter, Leger said.

Although the organization is new, those involved are familiar with homelessness in Jackson County. Leger is the regional lead for the Western North Carolina Homeless Coalition. She’s also the outreach and development coordinator for the Sylva-based Center for Domestic Peace.

HERE in Jackson County’s board also includes Monica Frizzell with Vaya Health; Marilyn Chamberlin of Southwestern Child Development Commission, the agency that currently manages the county’s homeless program; and community members Kelly Brown and Mary Kate Crisp.

Bob Cochran, former director of Jackson County’s Department of Social Services and current case manager for the homeless program, has been involved in developing the organization.

Cochran said it’s difficult to project the level of services needed going into next winter. It’s important to be mindful of grant cycles, since the county’s funding serves as a foundation for other money streams, he said.

HERE in Jackson County has requested $245,000 for its annual budget, more than double the amount provided to the homeless program for fiscal-year 2018-19.

Cochran told commissioners that advocates for the homeless can do their job of making sure nobody freezes to death at their current level of funding. Maintaining the level of case-management services, however, isn’t sustainable, he said.

During the 2018-19 cold-weather season, the county’s homeless program sheltered 53 adults and 26 children. Hotel rooms this year cost about $85,000 over more than 1,300 nights; though, this number doesn’t include expenses such as food, travel and case management.

At season’s end, 34 percent of adults served had achieved permanent housing for the future, and efforts are underway to secure housing for the 19 percent of shelter residents who remain in need.