One woman’s quest to bring joy to teens

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Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

The definition of homeless is “not having a fixed residence.” Many of the homeless in Macon County live in tents and campers, or “couch surf” going from house to house.
Does a McDonald’s apple pie taste like a homemade apple pie? That was a question posed by a young Macon County student. A question that might not seem very important except that the student who asked it is experiencing homelessness.
Amanda Shaw, owner of Macon Rentals and manager of “Flavor: a Cookbook Club,” heard about this student and immediately knew something had to be done for this child. Shaw decided that she needed to bake an apple pie for her, but not just bake one pie. She decided to seek the help of club members who might be willing to bake a lot of pies.
Shaw had this to say on social media: “I have become more and more aware of the amount of local teenagers without true homes and sofa surfing. I heard a story about a young girl who wondered if McDonalds pies tasted like homemade pies, she never had a homemade pie. …
“My brain started working. What is something little I could do to bring joy to these teenagers? I’m not a teacher. I am not a social worker or therapist. But I am one heck of an organizer. …
“This February I am asking for all my willing cookbook club members, friends, and bakers to join me in donating a pie for ‘Pies for President’s Day.’ This year we will start with hosting it for the Union School Academy. My hope is if we have a resounding number of pies we can donate a few to REACH of Macon County and next year branch out from there.
Shaw went on to say that she would like to start with 20 pies and would like folks to drop them off at Macon Rental Co. or bring them to the Cookbook Club meeting on Monday, Feb. 17. The pies will then be served to the students during their lunch period on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
“Can I count on you to help?,” the post continued. “Let’s ‘bake’ the world a better place.”
This is one small part of one story about students in Macon County who are facing homelessness. Couch surfing, or sofa surfing, as Shaw puts it, is an all too real experience facing students.

Union Academy offers some relief
for homeless students
At Union Academy (UA) several students who are currently “couch surfing.” These students come to school hungry, have dirty laundry to clean, and need showers. They can get what they need at school during the day. UA has washing machines for students to use between classes. They get free breakfast and lunch and can take a shower at the end of the day with donated soap, shampoo and other toiletries. There is a food pantry with essentials and students can grab a backpack full of supplies upon leaving for the day, no questions asked.
Diane Cotton, principal of Union Academy explains.
“They take care of each other,” said Cotton. “We have therapists on site from Meridian and other agencies to help meet the needs of the UA students.” She points out, “at one time we had up to 15 students who were homeless.”
Cotton believes that education is of utmost importance for these students so she tries to help set a comfortable learning environment that optimizes the ability of the students to learn, no matter the students’ circumstances.

PIT reveals a real problem
Recently Macon County was involved in the Point In Time (PIT) yearly Census Count for homelessness. Last year the PIT count revealed 91 folks who were experiencing homelessness, including 70 families in Macon County. Carol Arnold, consultant on homelessness for the Macon County School Board, says that there are 41 families in the Macon County School system currently experiencing homelessness. The definition for being homeless is not having a fixed residence. Right now, three families are in campers, 15 in shelters and 22 who are doubled up, that is living in someone else’s home. Social workers are sent out to talk to the families to help get them qualified for services. The goal is to get them to a point where they will be able to transition back into a fixed residence, which can be a challenging task due to a variety of issues.

Factors that may lead to being homeless
Many factors can lead to a family or individual to become homeless. The top five causes are, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, mental illness and lack of needed services, and substance abuse and the lack of needed services. Here in Macon County there are no homeless shelters and very few warming stations, like there are in Asheville and the surrounding counties. The library offers a bit of a reprieve from the cold and rain and the Fitness Center has also allowed folks to take showers there from time to time. Several agencies assist families and individuals in helping to transition back to a fixed residence such as Macon New Beginnings and REACH of Macon County, but many of these families are not easily helped, due to many complicated factors. No Wrong Door is another agency trying to combat the effects of folks being unsheltered. HUD (Housing and Urban Development) offers assistance to those who are unsheltered through their Continuum of Care (CoC) Program. This program offers assistance to individuals and families experiencing homelessness and provides the service needed to help them move into transitional housing and permanent housing, with the goal of long-term stability. For information, visit hudexchange.com.

What can you do to help
In order to assist folks who are in need, whether they are unsheltered, in a shelter, transitional housing or couch surfing, donations are desperately needed. Coats, blankets, unopened toiletries, non-perishable food, tents, and sleeping bags can be donated to several agencies in town. Among those are Western North Carolina Aids Project (WNCAP) at 3261 Georgia Rd.; or No Wrong Door for Support and Recovery at 102 Thomas Heights Road.

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