WILMINGTON, N.C. — Earlier this month, New Hanover County passed an ordinance that criminalizes sleeping on county property, something that would have a huge impact on the area’s homeless population.
One local nonprofit, however, is working toward creating a city where no one sleeps outside, not through criminalizing the act but by creating a long-term, community-driven solution.
What You Need To Know
New Hanover County passed an ordinance that criminalizes sleeping on county property
The ordinance comes as an effort to keep county properties safe and clean
Eden Village is not complete yet but will be able to provide long-term, affordable housing to those in need
Shawn Hayes, the executive director of Wilmington’s Eden Village, says it’s not just your typical collection of tiny homes.
“The goal of Eden Village is to build relationships and communities for our friends who are chronically homeless,” Hayes said. “We have these lovely little homes that feel like a home. They don’t feel like a box, they feel like a home.”
It’s something Hayes is proud to be a part of.
“To be able to create a community for those who aren’t a part of a community,” Hayes said. “It’s a wonderful thing. It’s a beautiful thing.”
For him, it’s more than helping the homeless, he’s helping his friends.
“When you sit down, and you get to hear the person’s story, and you hear how resilient they are, and how brave they are to have gone through whatever it is that they went through, and that they’re still living, and that they’re a survivor,” Hayes said. “You really get to put a human in the place where that word or that stigma that is attached to homelessness is, and they become your friends.”
But now, his friends are in trouble. In New Hanover County, it’s now criminalized to sleep on country property. Those who do could pay a fine and spend a night in jail, something that Hayes says won’t provide any long-term solutions.
“It’s a Band-Aid over a bullet wound,” Hayes said. “Our friends need help. We need to house them.”
Hayes believes that instead of criminalizing sleeping on county property, the county should help provide alternative places to sleep.
“Our city official, our elected officials, you have access to land,” Hayes said. “Give it to us, give it to other agencies who are trying to create supportive housing, and we’ll do the work.”
With the new ordinance in mind, Hayes believes Eden Village is even more important.
“But to be able to have one of my friends sleep in a bed rather than sleeping on the ground, or rather than sleeping in a sleeping bag or sleeping in a car,” Hayes said. “It means just the world to us.”
When construction is complete, Eden Village will be able to house over 30 homeless individuals, as well as give them a sense of community and access to resources, such as basic health care and education.
Hayes is hoping this can create long-term, positive change amongst his friends.
“It feels great to be able to be a part of something that creating transformation for a group of folks that have been forgotten,” Hayes said. “Our friends are out there on the streets, they need our help, we’re gonna provide that help, and our ultimate goal is to make Wilmington a city where no one sleeps outside.”
There is no estimate yet on when Eden Village will be completed, but they are seeking any skilled workers who are interested in volunteering to come and help build the tiny homes.
New Hanover County Commissioners say the ordinance is in place to keep county properties safe and clean.