With Norris stepping down, who will lead homeless efforts?

With Norris stepping down, who will lead homeless efforts?

After almost five years as PACEM’s first executive director, Dave Norris is moving on. When his tenure ends in June, the mayor will leave the winter homeless shelter in solid shape, financially solvent and firmly entrenched in the community, and in quite a different spot from where he was when he started in September 2004, only two months before PACEM itself first opened.

Dave Norris is resigning from his position as executive director at PACEM as he runs for a second term on City Council.

Back then, Norris was basically all there was as far as help. “I did pretty much everything,” he says. When not at the rotating shelter, Norris was driving his wayward guests over to wherever they were spending the night, or doing case work for them.

Skip forward four and a half years, and Norris has established PACEM as the primary homeless provider in town. In that span, he is also approaching the end of his first term on City Council. Just recently, he announced his intention to run for a second term, explaining that he feels he has more to do before he is through with local office.

With PACEM, Norris can leave with a sense of accomplishment—“My goal was to get it off the ground,” he says—but his departure hardly means there’s nothing left to do. While PACEM has provided “tens of thousands” with overnight shelter, many of them are back out on Charlottesville’s streets every March. “It’s very hard at the end of every winter to tell people their time is up,” he says.

This year, PACEM was able to stay open longer than it ever has, thanks to a donor who allowed it to move its closing date from March 13 to the 27th. As a result, approximately 80 percent of their previous guests, as they’re called, will be staying through the additional two weeks, but space constraints forced PACEM to oust 15 men and at least a few women, who were told a few days before the original cut-off that their tenure was over.

“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” says Sean Hawkins while standing in a downstairs corner of the main library on Market Street. Outside, as he talks to a reporter, the air feels heavy as if it’s under a sheet of ice. Tomorrow will be worse as a cold front moves in, and that is when Hawkins will start sleeping outside. Luckily, he was able to obtain a tent and a sleeping bag at the last second from the Hope Community Center.

Since its demise as a homeless shelter late last spring, Hope has been relatively quiet, but has recently begun operating as a day shelter for up to 25 or 30 homeless, who shower there or just stay indoors. It is one of their few options until the First Street Church on Market Street is up and running (an open house and groundbreaking will occur on March 26). When it opens (by Thanksgiving it is hoped), the bottom floor will be a grander version of what Hope is doing, operating as a day shelter and resource center for the poor and homeless.

When construction starts, a rigorous search for an executive director will begin. While the church hopes the position will be filled by someone within the local community, Norris says he is not interested. “I’m ready for a different arena.”

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