Bhūmi Donates $5,000 to Combat Homelessness in Asheville, North Carolina
By Jordan Laws
Take a walk through Patton Park and you will see them lying on benches, gathering together for comfort, largely ignored by passersby: people who have been completely abandoned by society, people whose lives have been destroyed by addiction, people who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
These people fell through the ever widening cracks of our society and landed here in Patton Park or in homeless camps scattered under bridges and hidden within the woods. These people deserve a second, third, hell, even fourth, fifth and sixth chances. All they need is a helping hand, a kind gesture, a stable shelter—something that won’t get snatched away from them by the indifferent society that placed them here.
Homeward Bound is an Asheville-Based organization that holds out their hand, gives the kind gesture, and provides stable shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Buncombe County. They are the only organization in western North Carolina that can boast a startling 89% retention rate in the 2,230 individuals they housed from 2006 to 2021. They have been able to achieve such a retention rate because of their “housing first” model.
According to Jim Lowder, Homeward Bound’s Strategic Gifts Officer, “the understanding behind Housing First is that housing is foundational to personal stability, growth and the achievement of potential.” Lowder went on to say that it is extremely difficult for someone to move forward with their life while living on the streets, in campsites and in shelters.
Catherine Artzt, founder and owner of Bhūmi, knows this struggle all too well.
“I spent a few years on the road living under the stars. When I arrived in Asheville in 2012, I was living in a van and had to find my way off the streets to try and start my life over. Getting off the street is very difficult, and takes some creativity and temporary deception.”
The type of deception Artzt mentions is harmless to businesses overall but can be detrimental to people experiencing homelessness if their potential employers discover their deceit. It’s a white lie, something any of us would say to become gainfully employed: I’m not homeless. In a country where homelessness is stigmatized and abhorred, representatives and political mouth-pieces alike fly the banner of: Work Hard, Get a Job, Struggle to Thrive; when the reality for people experiencing homelessness is that it’s difficult to acquire a job when you don’t have access to showers, clean laundry, transportation, and most important of all, a photo ID.
“I was lucky enough to have an ID,” Artzt said. “But I have known folks with a lack of identification as a huge barrier to employment. This can take time, money, and resources to solve.”
Time, money, and resources are luxuries that most people experiencing homelessness can’t afford.
However, Homeward Bound offers a variety of resources to people who experience homelessness, but the main asset they give people is housing.
Lowder explained the different housing options Homeward Bound offers. “One is what we call Rapid-ReHousing. This plan is for individuals and families who have become homeless recently. Our strategy is to move them into housing, provide rental assistance and support for a short period of time – sometimes a couple of months up to a maximum of two years.
The second option is Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). This option is for persons with a higher level of need and vulnerability. Currently, our focus for PSH is with persons who are chronically homeless. A chronically homeless person is someone who has been homeless for a year or longer and is also living with at least one disabling condition. Their condition can involve physical health issues, mental illness or substance use disorders. Homeward Bound’s involvement with such an individual can range from two years to a lifetime.
Chronically homeless persons who have the highest level of need and greatest vulnerability qualify for housing in our Woodfin Apartments. The Woodfin Apartments is highly structured housing where Homeward Bound is the landlord, case managers are located on site and there is 24/7 staffing for the safety and security of our residents.”
Bhūmi’s connection to Homeward Bound involves more than Artzt’s personal triumph over homelessness. “Building a company with a strong moral foundation was always very important to me. My hope was to build the company I always wished I could work for. I’ve built the company with the constant focus to operate with a low environmental impact, give back to our community, and provide a safe and healthy work environment for our staff.”
Donating $5,000 to Homeward Bound is one of the many ways Artzt gives back to the community. In fact, she feels small businesses ought to help their communities in any way they can.
“From a restaurant giving extra food at the end of the night to someone on the street, to allowing someone to use the restroom, or helping someone find access to a resource they need - these are all great ways to help for little to no cost. Also, opening the hiring pool to those with criminal records and veterans is another way to help people directly in getting off the streets and into a more sustainable situation for themselves.”
Bhūmi is able to give back to the community for various reasons, but the primary one is that it treats its employees with dignity and respect, and pays more than a living wage.
“It may look expensive up front to ‘do the right thing’ in business, but overall I think the cost is lower. Work is a fun place to be, people here feel like they are making a difference and are motivated to do well both financially and in our company missions. I don’t have to spend a lot of time training people, and generally stress is low. I am able to focus on building the company instead of interpersonal issues or constantly trying to hire more people. When I started this business, I ran it this way because I felt it was the right thing to do. Now I realize it’s probably also the easiest and most sustainable way as well!”
Homeward Bound is doing a phenomenally difficult, albeit rewarding, job in helping people on the streets, in campsites, in shelters find more permanent housing. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, some federal programs have granted funds to organizations like Homeward Bound to prevent people from losing their apartments, their homes, their livelihoods, but the extension of these programs remains unknown.
Donations of any amount go a lot further than you think when it comes to people who have no money in their pockets, no food in their stomachs, no access to showers, etc.
Please go to homewardboundwnc.org, hover over the Donation link, click Donate, and give whatever you deem necessary to help put shoes on someone’s feet, food in someone’s stomach, but most importantly—a roof over someone’s head.
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