A group of local charities is looking to redevelop a former school campus in Cherokee County into a shelter for homeless women and children, and is asking the county’s Board of Commissioners for money to support the project.
Homeless Solutions for Cherokee County plans to turn the former Tippens Elementary School facility at 8 Glenwood St. in Canton into a 90-day transitional housing center for women and children, Lynne Saunders of Encompass Ministries told commissioners Tuesday. Initial plans drawn up show that the main building on campus would be turned into the housing facility, with five dorms for women that can each house four beds, along with eight family dorms with two bedrooms in each dorm. The former media center would contain computers that could be used for job searches and homework, while a laundry facility would be installed near the former cafeteria. The gym building would be used as a community center and emergency weather shelter, while a third building on site would be transformed into a childcare facility.
Even though the school board voted to advertise the sale of the facility in 2018, a Cherokee County tax parcel report showed the property as still belonging to CCSD. A school district spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
There is no overnight shelter in Cherokee County, Saunders said, though MUST Ministries is looking to open a new shelter in Cobb County in early 2022. It’s also difficult to get an accurate count of the total homeless population in the county, she said.
During the 2020-21 school year, the Cherokee County School District counted 187 children in the system that were considered homeless, while a 2019 point-in-time count found 223 homeless people in the county. A grassroots homeless count in March found 332 homeless people in the county: 164 men, 103 women and 65 children, Saunders said. Although this did help give some idea of what the homeless population in Cherokee County could be, there are other factors that keep a more accurate count from being made.
To help make this project become a reality, the group is asking Cherokee County for about $9.5 million over a three-year period.
“We’re going to be asking for funding this year of $250,000 for startup, and that’s salaries and a few other startup fees,” Saunders said. “We’re going to be asking for $7.25 million for 2022, renovations, furnishings, all of that. And then 2023, we’re planning on asking for maybe another $2 million or so. There’s an additional property we may have some interest in adding to the features of the campus.”
Although the board was interested in helping with this project, Commission Chair Harry Johnston said Saunders’ numbers were a bit more than the commissioners had been expecting. Saunders said the numbers could be trimmed down, but by not giving the higher numbers, the organization believed it would be shortchanging itself moving forward.
Johnston said it might be possible to fully fund the organization’s request, if the federal government could allow American Rescue Plan Act money to be spent on capital projects. But he was open to continuing discussions.
“Thank you all for working as a team to try to figure out a way to make this go forward,” Johnston said. “We are interested in making this happen.”