Something to Do During the Day, A Hallmark of Urban Opportunity

Today I am honored to participate in the Group Blogging Event on Urban Economic Opportunity, presented by Meeting of the Minds and Living Cities. When asked to contribute on how to create urban opportunities for people, there was one place in particular that came into mind. That place was the Interactive Resource Center in downtown Greensboro.

The Interactive Resource Center (IRC) came out of a movement here in Guilford County, NC to end homeless in ten years. The movement, now revised to a long-term goal of making sure every Guilford County resident has a home, is called Partners Ending Homelessness. This movement is now a task force of government leaders, social service providers, business leaders, and faith organizations and other relevant entities. When this group came together, Guilford County and its major cities of Greensboro and High Point already had a number of soup kitchens, halfway houses and overnight shelters. Yet, many of these organizations left a gap in the day of those who were homeless and jobless. And while some of these organizations can help homeless people find work and shelter, they did not have a robust system for dealing with why homelessness (and joblessness) happens in the first place.

Enter the IRC. Instead of having to leave the shelters or pull up one’s tents in the morning, just to wander the streets aimlessly, people, who are known as guests, can come and sit inside until the IRC closes at 2 p.m. While at the IRC, people can do laundry and take showers and  get haircuts, health checkups, job training and job placement, as well as get help finding a permanent home. Guests can also use the phone, have mail delivered and get help with obtaining identification and other necessary documentation that would help with keeping a job and a permanent home. In addition, there are various community events that don’t just involve people who are homeless, jobless or both. An artists group has helped some guests become working artists. The guests produce their own newspaper, the Greensboro Voice, which is distributed throughout the city. The classic support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous exist as well. A Jewish group recently held a homelessness themed seder. Several other community and church groups meet there, because it’s a sizable and convenient facility with just enough parking and just a block from the main bus and train depot. Thanks to these groups, there are often activities throughout the rest of the day. In the winter and other periods of bad weather, the IRC becomes an emergency shelter.

This graphic below illustrates a typical month at the IRC.

One key thing about the IRC is that there is no judgement placed on guests. Guests are strongly encouraged, but not required, to utilize the social services at the facility. However, many do and many have improved lives as a result.

How does this create urban opportunity? For starters, it puts more people in homes, in jobs and in turn on the tax rolls and in the local school systems. Instead of being marginalized by the greater community, they are the greater community, right along those who have never had struggles or who haven’t struggled as publicly. Plus, when it comes to the smart cities revolution, this facility is providing free computers and computer skills training, plus the means to get people connected through being able to afford smartphones and other consumer technology. Children of adult guests have parents and guardians who understand modern technology and how it can help in learning as well as making life more profitable and efficient.

It is my belief that all homeless shelters and the communities around them should begin to operate in this manner. Join together in consortiums based on region and work on a system of providing temporary to permanent shelter, temporary to permanent jobs, access to food and access to higher education and advanced job training. In addition, opportunities for entrepreneurship, as well as health services should be provided. The less people we have on the streets and on the rolls of welfare programs, the stronger our economy can become. This doesn’t negate the need for temporary help or help to bridge gaps left when major economic players leave the market or reduce their workforce. It calls upon all stakeholders to put their hands in the pot and contribute for the sustainability of their community.

In April of this year, I joined the board of this organization and I’m excited to contribute my talents to helping raise funds and greater community awareness.

To learn more about the IRC, go here.

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About Kristen Jeffers

I'm Kristen. Almost five years ago, I got tired of not seeing black women as nerded out about trains, better streets, riding bikes, walking not just out of necessity, tall buildings, old buildings and honestly a lot of other things. I was in grad school for community and economic development (ok, it’s actually an MPA), and I wanted to make sure people knew I existed and that I could help them do this thing called placemaking better. Five years later, I’m still doing that, although not from my hometown of Greensboro, NC, but from Kansas City, MO. I spend most of my time in Kansas City promoting better biking and walking infrastructure metro-wide with BikeWalk KC and the Kansas City B-cycle. But I also wrote a book A Black Urbanist (you can grab that over on the right) and sometimes I give speeches and help other communities tell their stories at design charrettes and public meetings. I’ve also written or appeared in all of the major “urbanist” publications, either as a subject or as a writer, as well as most of my hometown papers as subject or writer as well.