‘We ought to be investing in a long-term strategy’

By on September 25, 2023

New Room in the Inn head seeks community engagement to tackle homelessness

Shari Fiveash

New OBX Room in the Inn Executive Director Shari Fiveash says her main goal is to reach out into the community to create more partnerships with local organizations and churches and foster more opportunities for the growing unhoused population on the Outer Banks. And those opportunities include everything from supporting more housing options to helping people succeed in the job market.

Fiveash, who took over at Room in the Inn in July, has a lengthy background as a non-profit executive and consultant, most recently serving as President of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve worked with the Hartford Rescue Mission, I worked with a mission organization in Fayetteville. I’ve done everything from sort clothes, feed them, cook, you know, whatever was needed.”

According to Fiveash, as her husband, also a nonprofit executive, was planning his retirement, they set their sights on the Outer Banks to put down roots. They had spent 30 years vacationing here and had their wedding here. They felt the Room in the Inn position was the right opportunity to finally make the move.

“So it worked out very well,” she added. “Room In the Inn really needed somebody that had had organizational background experience. And it was also time for them to grow a little. So we’re working on that.”

She also comes in the midst of a Dare County housing shortage that is exacerbating the problem of homelessness. Room in the Inn houses those in need from Nov. 11 through April 30 of each year. Last year, it provided shelter for 45 overnight guests—a number that has risen since the COVID outbreak—and served more than 5,000 meals.

“There’s no housing,” Fiveash stated. “That is a very, very, very tough one. In fact, you know, as we looked around to buy a house, it was tough. It was really tough…I can’t tell you how many people [have called Room in the Inn] every week…because they’ve been evicted…and they don’t have a place to sleep, and there is no place for them right now. It is really a sad situation.”

Fiveash says part of her goal is to increase the number of churches who partner with Room In the Inn to provide meals and shelter for residents. Right now there are 20 churches active in the program, and Fiveash—who estimates there are 75 to 100 churches on the Outer Banks—is setting her sights on growing that number.

She added that the organization is fortunate to be able to use the international student housing facility in Nags Head as a shelter in the winter. But between the shelter and their intake center, located at 111 W. Carlton Avenue, in Kill Devil Hills, the financial requirements are not easy to meet.

“It takes a lot of money to rent two different facilities, because we have an intake center that’s year-round, and then we have that [housing] facility,” she said. “So…if we’re going to spend that much, we really ought to be investing in a long-term strategy,” that focuses on workforce development and long-term housing.

“You know, there’s possibilities, because there’s not enough workers here…Some of our folks are employed, some of our folks are not,” she noted. “But with the proper skills or avenues to reach, there’s not a single one of them that couldn’t be employed somewhere. But when you’re down on your luck, and you don’t have any money, and you don’t have any food, and you don’t have a place to sleep, it’s tough to also try and have a job.”

Fiveash wants to provide as many guests as possible with workforce development services to help them get back on their feet. There have already been improvements, like helping with clothing or hygienic products to prepare for job interviews and partnering with Fresh Market to provide healthy, quality bagged lunches for guests to take out of the shelter when they leave for the day.

Fiveash acknowledges the challenges of finding housing in Dare County for those who may be struggling.

“There’re some bad connotations that sometimes crop up that aren’t necessarily true. But, you know, nobody wants to be put in a situation that’s not a good fit, whether it’s your neighborhood or my neighborhood, or these people that we’re talking about looking for housing. You know, they need to be in a welcoming situation and not a push away,” she said.

And she’s looking to nearby communities for inspiration.

“I’ve been looking into tiny houses even, but then trying to find land that we could put them on, because there’s all kinds of grants for that kind of thing,” says Fiveash. “And in fact, I think in Norfolk, I’m pretty sure they’re doing it right now. They’re building tiny houses for the homeless and setting them up, not like a trailer court, because they look like little houses, with sidewalks and grass and flowers and all the things, making it a small development.”

In the Outer Banks, Fiveash noted, homelessness isn’t as visible as in other communities. “Here, they’re kind of hidden,” she said, adding that once you know what you’re looking for though, it becomes more apparent. “Like, right outside my office across the street, there’s four parking stalls. And there has been a white suburban sitting there for a month, and people are sleeping in it.”

According to Fiveash, a major problem on the Outer Banks is people who live in their cars and can’t find a place to park it: “So that’s another thing that we’re kind of looking for. Where is there a parking lot that they would allow them just to park overnight.”

To tackle all of these issues, Fiveash plans on getting out into the community to spread the word to increase funding efforts and create new partnerships and possibilities. This week she had a meeting with churches and a speaking engagement at a Rotary Club. She’s also planning on revving up the organization’s social media.

“We’re kind of looking to see, you know, what we can do, who we could partner with, and try and make something work,” Fiveash stated. “So I’m really trying to connect more. We’re trying to get involved in more organizations so the word gets out about what we need and how they can supply it. So there’s a lot of things going on all at once, but I think they’re all positive.”



Comments

  • surf123

    This is heartless, but the fewer services the better unless the goal is to attract more homeless. It is very difficult to help only those who live here and are down on their luck (or unable to find housing) versus accommodating those who came here because there is help available in this county. Downtown Lancaster, PA has been crushed under the weight of opening a homeless shelter. The plan was to accommodate the local population, but they ended up with more homeless than ever since there were services. Dare County is ill-suited to accommodate a homeless population with limited services, no transportation, wide geographic boundaries, and no public facilities other than beach access bathrooms (or those of businesses). Larger cities have services in place and can accommodate them way better than this county ever will or should.

    Allowing people to park their cars overnight so they can sleep in them is a terrible idea because we will end up with visitors deciding they do not need to use a campground, motel, hotel or other lodging when they can stay for free.

    Monday, Sep 25 @ 3:34 pm
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    You are right, Surf. That is a heartless sentiment.

    Monday, Sep 25 @ 3:54 pm
  • Part Time OBX

    SURF123 – 100% accurate and true. Pandora’s Box, once you open it, it cannot be closed. Not the time, and not the place.

    Monday, Sep 25 @ 4:04 pm
  • Covid19

    Covid transplants come in all types. I definitely did not see the amount of homeless before covid. Not to say they were not here, however I believe a lot of homeless came here during the pandemic specifically.

    There’s plenty of jobs here for them, and no where to live. Having a place to live for a duration while they work and save money could help them either find a place to live, or afford them the next phase in the journey of life.

    Li

    Monday, Sep 25 @ 4:24 pm
  • Obx mermaid

    There are many of these homeless that have veteran administration benefits! You should get these people to the new VA facility in Virginia Beach! Rent an Uber or a bus and take them up there! We do not need the homeless on the outer banks!!!! If other states can send the immigrants to New York City, we can send the homeless with VA benefits to a Va retirement center!

    Monday, Sep 25 @ 4:26 pm
  • surf123

    Fiveash is just another out of towner trying to morph the OBX in to what she thinks it should be and not what we have. We do not want big city problems since we cannot and should not handle them. Her comment: “I’ve been looking into tiny houses even, but then trying to find land that we could put them on, because there’s all kinds of grants for that kind of thing,” says Fiveash. “And in fact, I think in Norfolk, I’m pretty sure they’re doing it right now. They’re building tiny houses for the homeless and setting them up, not like a trailer court, because they look like little houses, with sidewalks and grass and flowers and all the things, making it a small development.” shows that she is completely out of touch. There is no comparison between Dare County and Norfolk and there never will be. They have massive amounts of usable land (we have very little and nearly all of its best use is vacation rentals) and significant funds to back such a project. I don’t care what she does as long as zero tax dollars and zero occupancy tax dollars are involved, but everyone knows they eventually come around with their hand out.

    Monday, Sep 25 @ 7:23 pm
  • OBX wave

    The article made no mention of drug use. I would suspect a large number of the homeless are drug addicted, in which case they will not be employed no matter how much assistance they receive. I personally would like to know that statistic before I decide as to whether this is a worthwhile cause.

    Tuesday, Sep 26 @ 8:59 am
  • RealityCheck

    Fiveash needs a reality check, like NOW. She is not familiar with the OBX , AT ALL. Land prices is out of this world and you plan for tiny houses? NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.
    Resources such as food, social services, counseling and school choices that include job training are already readily available.

    Tuesday, Sep 26 @ 9:58 am
  • Travis

    Homelessness is a tough issue because right out of the gate there is the stigma that the person’s homeless situation is entirely of their own making. As with any social ill, this is sometimes the case and sometimes not.

    It’s well documented that many Americans live on the edge of disaster. Every paycheck goes to bills, rent, food and basic necessities. There’s not a lot left to build an emergency fund for if things go wrong. So the loss of a job or a serious medical issue suddenly morphs into a personal housing crisis.

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with giving a person a hand when times get tough. Some see it as a hand-out. I see it as a hand-up. Yeah, you’re always going to have your societal parasites, but I prefer to believe most people want to get back on their feet and get back to work.

    Tuesday, Sep 26 @ 10:58 am
  • Right Hook

    I strongly suggest that most of the harsh sentiments expressed above are from individuals that are blessed with a reasonable degree of home, job and income security which could change any time as the result of circumstances beyond their control. Room In The Inn has been instrumental in providing many with the opportunity to get back on their feet. RITI is not just shelter and food but also provides valuable counseling, encouragement, job seeking, health resources, etc. The guests are drug and alcohol screened, have criminal background checks and are held accountable to following rules and routines. Jesus said, “as you do unto the least of these you do unto me”.

    Tuesday, Sep 26 @ 4:36 pm
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Right, thanks for the perspective.

    Tuesday, Sep 26 @ 6:29 pm
  • Justin

    I was homeless in 1998. She has no clue what she’s talking about. If you provide a dump, the rats will come.

    Wednesday, Sep 27 @ 6:45 am
  • Notanisland

    Still not sure how to retire from a “nonprofit”. Much less have the funds to move here a buy a house!!! Maybe her yard is big enough for tiny homes…

    Thursday, Sep 28 @ 10:54 am
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Not, working in an executive position at a nonprofit is now a vow of poverty. Nonprofits includes hospitals, universities, foundations, etc.

    Thursday, Sep 28 @ 9:47 pm
  • Resident30+

    A sad and embarrassing welcome- can anyone post how OBX residents with compassion can volunteer or otherwise help our homeless neighbors?

    And I’ll show restraint for the person suggesting we bus our hometown veterans to Virginia Beach

    Thursday, Sep 28 @ 9:54 pm