Homeless Stock Photo

Since November, local donors have contributed nearly $73,911 to the Franklin County Community Resource Board, which uses the funds to pay for nights of stay at the American Inn on nights when the temperature is below freezing or inclement weather is expected. 

As of Tuesday morning, the Franklin County Community Resource Board-funded warming shelter program had raised $73,911 since receiving its first donation of the season in November 2020 from Washington Police Chief Ed Menefee. The bulk of donations came during February, following a plea to the community that the program needed $25,000 to stay open through the winter.

“The community has been absolutely generous and amazing,” said Resource Board Director Annie Foncannon. “All of us working on this project, (people at) Mercy, the city of Washington, Foundations for Franklin County, the Homeless Task Force, we’re so thankful for the donations and wonderful support from the community.”

The program funds hotel rooms at American Inn for county residents without homes on nights the temperature falls below 32 degrees or 40 degrees with precipitation. In previous years those residents could stay at Mercy Hospital Washington, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program moved to the hotel rooms in fall 2020. 

Foncannon said having so much in the program’s reserves will put the program “in amazing shape” for next year if Mercy is still not able to house the residents. If the hospital is able to take on the program again, Foncannon said members of the Franklin County Homeless Task Force — which includes nonprofits, churches, the hospital, city and county government officials and school officials — will decide how to spend the money on programs supporting people who are homeless. 

Long term, Foncannon hopes a permanent county shelter can be built to house anyone experiencing homelessness regardless of nighttime temperatures.

Funding would have to come from a nonprofit, and Franklin County doesn’t have any 501(c)3s dedicated solely to housing, Foncannon explained. The nonprofit would need to be incorporated in the state and be approved by the IRS. A board of directors and bylaws would need to be in place before fundraising can begin, she said, with expected annual operating costs of $200,000 to $250,000 minimum.

“It takes a long time to raise that kind of capital,” Foncannon said. “I’m not saying it’s not doable, and there are people looking into it now, but the community would need to really get behind it.”