In recent years, Guilford County has begun playing a larger role in addressing the problem of homelessness in the area.

At the Thursday, Feb. 17 afternoon work session, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners discussed the possibility of building a hotel or purchasing an existing one to be used to house homeless individuals and families when area shelters were at capacity.

The commissioners discussed the matter because they’ve been getting reports of homeless people with no place to stay, who end up sleeping in a car or on the streets when homeless shelters are full.

Commissioner Carlvena Foster said that she, for one, had been hearing often that the homeless seeking help had no place to stay.

“We hear the next day that some mother and father had to sleep in the car,” Foster said at the work session in the Blue Room of the Old Guilford County Court House in downtown Greensboro.  “That seems to be the story that we get every week.”

The county has been housing some homeless people who have COVID-19 in area hotels so it already has a relationship with some places that have vacancies – but, apparently, some hotels don’t want to house groups of homeless people for the county.

Commissioner Skip Alston suggested at the work session that the county may have to take more serious action by building a hotel for the homeless or buying an existing hotel in the county.

“If we are going to be in it, we need to be in it to win it,” Alston said, “and we need to solve this problem.”

He added that the problem isn’t a lack of available space.

“It’s not that there is a shortage of rooms out there – there’s a shortage of collaboration with those folks that are owning those hotels,” the chairman said. “Any hotels, any night – they are not going to be more than 45 percent or 50 percent occupied. They are not going to fill up all these rooms every night.  They might have 15 or 20 rooms available.”

The chairman instructed county staff to “think outside the box” and come up with real solutions.

“Can we develop an inventory of rooms, so that when we have a family that is homeless we can put them there?” Alston asked staff and other commissioners.

The county is already spending about $84,000 a month housing the homeless in existing hotels, Alston said.

“We might be able to better use the money,”  Heck we can partner with the city – we can buy a hotel ourselves. It can be solved but we have to have the will and the funds.”

Guilford County Manager Mike Halford pointed out that addressing homelessness is a relatively new area for Guilford County government.

Typically, addressing the problem has been left more to cities and community organizations.

“I think what I’m hearing is that the county does need to move more in this space because typically this wasn’t a space the county was in,” Halford said at the meeting.

Halford said it was becoming clear that the county needed to move more rapidly into addressing the problem of homelessness than it has in the past.