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Pandemic deals fiscal blow to homeless shelter

Anyone wanting to know the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on a nonprofit in Rocky Mount can find out from United Community Ministries Board Chairwoman Cindy Worthy.

The organization operates a community shelter for homeless men and women in the 300 block of McDonald Street downtown. Worthy told the Telegram how critical the situation has become.

Worthy estimates United Community Ministries presently faces about $124,000 in COVID-19-related costs, including for deep cleaning inside; food, staffing and security; and even securing another possible site if more COVID-19 cases are confirmed.

“And you’re talking about five months from now to the end of the year,” Worthy said.

As of Thursday afternoon, the organization was sheltering 11 people who have tested positive for COVID-19. Seven are men and four are women.

Worthy said the seven men are staying in another, isolated location at which the organization is paying rent.

Worthy said the four women are staying in an isolated area of the shelter along McDonald.

Worthy said 10 men are staying in a men’s dormitory part of the shelter. Additionally, Worthy said the organization on Wednesday closed down the soup kitchen within the shelter for now.

Worthy told of staffers, including the organization’s director, having tested positive for COVID-19 and ending up quarantined at their respective residences.

One positive is United Community Ministries’ Bassett Center, which is in the 900 block of Branch Street in southeast Rocky Mount. The Bassett Center provides a transitional housing program for homeless families with children in the Twin Counties.

Worthy said five families have been staying in the Bassett Center and that none of those families have tested positive for COVID-19.

Worthy said the organization is not accepting any further admissions into the Bassett Center for now.

When asked by the Telegram about such a dire situation, Worthy said, “Well, I mean, anything could be worse — and we’re dealing with it.”

“The board of directors is meeting daily to stay on top of this,” Worthy said.

Worthy also said the organization is in constant touch with city and health officials and is receiving help from community partners.

Worthy noted that after the coronavirus began spreading this spring, United Community Ministries put the federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines for shelters into place.

Worthy also noted an Opportunities Industrialization Center mobile clinic is on-site once weekly to conduct COVID-19 testing of residents and staff.

Worthy noted a resident did not test positive until a couple of weeks ago.

United Community Ministries’ shelter began becoming an increasing subject of City Council discussion and news coverage after the council majority on April 27 signed off on $84,144 in federal Community Development Block funding to help local nonprofits provide public services for fiscal year 2020-21.

The amount included $7,000 for the Bassett Center, but nothing for the shelter.

The previous council for the previous fiscal year approved $20,000 for the shelter from the municipal general fund.

United Community Ministries had been asking for at least $30,000 for the shelter for fiscal year 2020-21.

At the start of Monday’s council meeting, Councilman Lige Daughtridge asked for and got the subject of the shelter added to the meeting agenda.

Later in the meeting, when the item came up, much discussion resulted, with Daughtridge emphasizing that the organization serves the homeless in the community where other organizations do not.

“And I think it’s going to put the community in harm’s way if we do not offer some money because they do not have the money within their budget,” Daughtridge told his fellow council members. “This was not budgeted in and they’re on a slim budget as it is.”

Daughtridge said he believes the Rocky Mount Event Center could be used to house these individuals because the venue is not being used due to the pandemic.

Daughtridge also expressed concern about the shelter’s proximity to Braswell Memorial Library and COVID-19-positive people entering that building.

Councilman Andre Knight said his recollection of prior discussion of the shelter item by the council was that City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney was asked to make sure United Community Ministries was included in whatever funding the city perhaps will get from the federal government for COVID-19-related relief.

Knight said his recollection was that Small-Toney said the city was getting other funding via the federal CARES Act and the organization would be awarded money.

Knight asked Small-Toney whether there has been follow-up with United Community Ministries.

Small-Toney made clear that City Budget and Evaluation Manager Kenneth Hunter has been in conversations with the organization.

“So we are still working with them,” Small-Toney said.

Small-Toney made clear she does not recommend the event center for housing anyone right now, particularly someone who has COVID-19.

“But we will work right along with them to see if they have something in mind as well,” Small-Toney said.

Nashville to build second fire station

The Town of Nashville is proceeding with plans to build a second fire station on the east side of town.

“Due to the growth of Nashville and the increase of traffic in town, it was necessary to have a fire station that would support the Gulley District,” Nashville Fire Chief Chris Joyner said.

The Gulley District is located on the east side of Nashville, while the fire department is on the southwest side of downtown. The fire department is unable to reach many locations in the Gulley District within a five-minute response time.

The approval of the fire station is a victory for property owners in Gulley, who suffer from higher insurance rates due to the fire department’s being unable to respond within five minutes.

The town is working with Clayton Homes to acquire property for the second fire station along Eastern Avenue.

“That location still meets the response requirement needed to meet the needs of the Gulley District,” Town Manager Randy Lansing told the Telegram.

Lansing estimates the cost of the new fire station to be $1.4 million. He said that response times greater than five minutes increase the fire department’s insurance services, which in turn means higher rates for property owners in the Gulley District.

Lansing also said the town’s lone fire station is neither deep enough nor tall enough to shelter a ladder truck the town recently acquired from the Cary Fire Department, so it is being housed in a temporary carport behind the Barnes Street fire station. Lansing also said that another Nashville fire truck is located in the carport behind the station, where wildlife chewed on the vehicle’s electrical wiring to the point an engine compartment fire broke out.

Joyner said that given an anticipated increase in calls from the east side of the Gulley District and the continued growth projected, he and his team will need to research the need for hiring more career members. As of now, the new station will be staffed by two career employees and volunteers on shift.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct erroneous information contained in the original version.

Nash deputies probe homicide

A 32-year-old man was discovered dead in the early morning hours of Thursday in his residence off North Old Carriage Road in the rural northern part of Nash County, and the sheriff’s office is treating the case as a homicide.

Deputies at 2:09 a.m. went to the 3100 block of Old North Carriage, which is north of the junction with Hunter Hill Road, in response to a medical call involving a male family member found unresponsive, Maj. Eddie Moore said.

The man died of a gunshot wound caused by an unknown suspect or suspects, Moore said.

According to Moore, a family member who also lives in the residence had returned from an outing and found the man inside.

The man had last been seen at the residence about 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Moore said.

The sheriff’s office is not releasing the man’s name at this time but does not believe this was a random crime and does not believe there is an immediate threat to the public.

The incident scene is roughly halfway between the U.S. 64 interchange with North Old Carriage and the Red Oak area.

Anyone with any information about the case is asked to phone the sheriff’s office at 252-459-4121.

Local man joins state transportation board

A Rocky Mount insurance agent and hospital board member was sworn in Wednesday as a new member of the state Board of Transportation.

Melvin M. Mitchell joined the board’s virtual meeting Thursday. He represents Division 4, which comprises Edgecombe, Halifax, Johnston, Nash, Wayne and Wilson counties. He succeeds Rocky Mount resident Gus Tulloss, who recently decided not to return to the board after serving on it for the past 12 years.

“It’s an honor and privilege to be able to serve the citizens of North Carolina and my region of the state by being appointed to this important board,” Mitchell said. “The North Carolina Department of Transportation has a vital mission and a professional work force that I look forward to working with.”

Mitchell is the president of Melvin M. Mitchell Agency Inc., which is affiliated with Allstate Insurance Co. He also serves on the Board of Commissioners for Nash UNC Health Care. He has a business education degree from Fayetteville State University and has lived in Rocky Mount since 1974.

He serves with 19 other people from across the state who represent each of the NCDOT’s 14 geographical highway divisions and six areas of statewide interest. The governor appoints members representing the 14 highway divisions, while the speaker of the state House and the state Senate president pro tem each appoint three at-large members.

Mitchell has served as a board member of the Rocky Mount Boys Club, Triangle Bank and Greater Rocky Mount Family Practice. He serves on the board of directors for Providence Bank in Rocky Mount and is a past member of the board of directors for First Carolina State Bank.

Mitchell also is active with North End Missionary Baptist Church. He also is a member of the Alpha Omicron Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and is the fraternity’s 41st Sixth District representative. He is a member of the N.C. Agriculture and Forestry Awareness Study Commission.

He and his wife, Laura, have two daughters and three grandchildren.