There was a big meeting of the minds on Monday, July 8 to decide how to handle many of the problems that have been emanating from the Interactive Resource Center in downtown Greensboro. The Center, which acts as a place where the homeless can get a shower, check email or escape from the heat of the day, is not a homeless shelter – there are no beds for sleeping.

However, the Center draws in a mass of homeless people each day and the actions of some have been highly troubling to business owners and residents who live in the area.

In the two-and-a-half-hour meeting held on the afternoon of July 8, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston, other City Council members and county commissioners – met with downtown stakeholders as well as with representatives of the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office and the Greensboro Police Department.

In fact, both of those law enforcement agencies brought a relatively large contingent of deputies and officers to the meeting, and it was important that they be there because it sounds as though increasing patrols of the Interactive Resource Center and the surrounding area is one of the ways the city and the county intend to deal with the problems.

That was just one of several solutions discussed that afternoon.

The Center does hire private security, though those are unarmed officers and, at the meeting, Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers said it was important to have officers there with more authority and training than, in Roger’s words, a “Rent-a-cop.”

Mayor Vaughan said she did believe that it would be more effective to have armed, uniformed officers play more of a role in security because sometimes Interactive Resource Center users don’t show enough respect to the private security guards whose powers are limited.

Vaughan said more security was just one of the potential solutions discussed at the Monday afternoon meeting.  According to the mayor, the Center has been inundated with users in recent months and one part of the solution may be other community organizations “stepping up” operations and providing services that keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. That will therefore keep them from ending up at the downtown Center.

Vaughan said the meeting was very productive.

“I think the right people were in the room,” she said after the meeting. “I think it went well.”

  “I can’t say we solved the whole thing in one meeting,” she said, but the mayor added that the dialogue was productive and she expects some upcoming actions will help the situation.

Recently, many business owners and residents who live near the center have been complaining greatly about things like panhandlers who are somewhat threatening, homeless people sitting on the steps in front of their businesses and dangerous-looking men peering suspiciously into parked cars behind buildings.

Vaughan said that while there are actions that can be taken to help remedy the situation, one solution some have suggested is off the table.

“Closing the IRC is not an option,” the mayor said, adding that some people had proposed that.

The center, which used to be a day center, is now open night hours as well – though it does close down completely in the wee hours of the morning for a thorough cleaning.

Vaughan said she and Alston are continuing talks along with the others involved.

One idea proposed at the meeting is expanding the city’s palette housing program – those are temporary pop-up small climate-controlled housing units for the homeless. That’s one move that could take some pressure off the IRC.

Chairman Alston, who called the meeting after seeing numerous complaints from businesses and residents in the area – as well as seeing some photos of some concerning activity – said the complaints were coming in so hot and heavy that he felt all the important players needed to get together in one room and try to come up with solutions.

According to Vaughan, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro and its president, Walker Sanders, may play a role in the solution as well going forward by convening the Continuum of Care – the planning body in Guilford County that coordinates the community’s strategies and activities when it comes to ending homelessness. Vaughan said that she thought having a “non-political” entity take that role might be helpful.

Alston said he was pleased to see the large number of law enforcement officers who attended the meeting; the county sheriff was there with about 10 of his deputies and the police chief attended with about a half dozen officers.

Like Vaughan, Alston believes that more “real cops” need to have a greater presence at the Center, perhaps even a constant and permanent presence.