Asheville Homeless Network is Forgetting That People Are More Important Than Paperwork

About nine years ago Asheville Homeless Network (AHN) was established as a glorious experiment.

Could a non-profit program be set up by homeless – and formerly homeless – people to meet the needs of the currently homeless? The answer was a resounding YES – until now.

It began as a noble gesture. A program to help the homeless – run by and for the homeless. Clothing was provided. Shoes made available. Bus tickets purchased. And 1001 other things that the homeless need to get through their day.

And the help didn’t stop there. When a person made the move from the street into a home of their own, money was freely given to help with utility deposits, help with rent when it became a challenge for someone and even toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper.

When someone moves from the street into a house or apartment there are plenty of agencies to help with the big items like tables, chairs and beds. But who takes care of the small things. AHN did and did a lot of it!

There was a time that people were more important than paperwork. Not willing to go the route of other social service agencies that rely on shuffling papers, crossing every “T” and dotting every “I”, AHN quietly went about doing good over the years for thousands of people. AHN was not interested in becoming a bureaucracy that mainly sought to maintain its own viability. People were more important that policies.

My, how times have changed.

With annual elections just held a couple of months ago, the personality and structure of AHN has undergone a sea change in substance.

Where once there was an open, grassroots environment that allowed people to explore new avenues for helping the homeless, AHN now wants to make sure all the paperwork is correct and in place for Raleigh. The free-form that enabled Chris Sullivan to start the phenomenally successful business – Home Free Bagels – that puts the homeless to work has ended. Such is the small minded and wrong headed thinking going on in AHN that Chris herself has been accused of stealing thousands of dollars.

AHN is now being run primarily by people who have never been homeless. Rather they’ve “studied” the problem. They’ve written research papers about it. They’ve done everything except experience the trauma of life on the streets for themselves.

While not on the same scale as Habitat for Humanity, AHN is going through the paradigm shift that Habitat experienced back in 2005. What began as a noble cause ended in a slide downward into bureaucratic bullshit and bungling which led to Millard Fuller – the founder – resigning in disgust. Habitat for Humanity is not better off today for abandoning the grass roots work that built it into the largest non-profit in the world – and neither is AHN.

One thought on “Asheville Homeless Network is Forgetting That People Are More Important Than Paperwork

  1. I was VP of AHN for about a year under Moss Bliss and we all had to realize that one of the really tragic things about homelessness is the universal trust deficit, where the homeless can’t trust anyone including each other and sometimes even ourselves. Most charities have fallen back on paperwork to defend against this, but we tried hard to resist this at AHN because, at least for my part, I believe that theives and liars can fill out peperwork as if not more effectively than the deserving, so why bother. I left before the bagel venture got started and would have been very wary about such a venture as likely overambitious, like URTV. Our philosophy was to avoid paperwork and also large scams by spreading aid thin and wide in the expectation that few people would resort to con artistry for something as small as a bus ticket or pair of socks.
    -Alan Ditmore

    I am going to add that personal experience of homelessness was a membership requirement when I was there, for the purpose of making sure that homeless or formerly homeless people retained control of the organization permanently. If control of AHN has been gained by people who have never expierienced homlessness, we should make sure that that change was made in accordance with the founding constitution, which I remember as not being amendable in that regard.
    An experience of homelessness was broadly defined at the AHN I remember, but it was MANDATORY, certainly for the leadership and for those choosing the leadership.

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