- The Washington Times - Friday, January 28, 2000

PINEHURST, N.C.

This quaint village known as the site of one of the nation's premier golfing events is balking at housing something else the homeless.

Some residents of Pinehurst object to a church-led plan to offer temporary shelter to homeless families in the midst of their sedate golfing and retirement community of 8,000.

"I don't have a problem with the homeless," said Linda Cox, a businesswoman and leader of a petition drive against the proposal. "I'm against putting a shelter in a residential neighborhood."

Pinehurst, site of the 1999 U.S. Open golf tournament and in line to hold the 2005 competition, is one of the state's wealthiest communities. Retirees live in homes surrounded by hedges, brick walls or white picket fences.

The dispute began when two churches located across the street from the gold-domed Pinehurst Hotel and Country Club offered to house up to 14 persons for about four weeks in the year. They would be part of a program that rotates homeless people from one church to another around the county.

The candidates would be families with children who were screened to weed out derelicts, drunks and drug addicts, said officials at the churches, the Community Presbyterian Church and the Village Chapel.

But what started as an attempt to provide emergency housing for needy families has evolved into a battle over how exclusive Pinehurst should remain.

Known for its contoured, humpback greens, the 97-year-old Pinehurst golf club is a jewel of the county, attracting wealthy businessmen and sports fans alike.

Some 60 percent of the county's tourist trade is tied directly to the golf, according to Caleb Miles, chief executive of the Moore County tourist bureau. Having the 1999 Open was expected to generate $40 million in revenue for the area.

The Rev. Ben Bishop, senior pastor at Community Presbyterian and himself a Pinehurst Country Club member, said he well knows the village's atmosphere of privilege and wealth.

"You go five miles in either direction, and you're in the poor areas of eastern North Carolina," Mr. Bishop said. "We are an enclave."

Mr. Bishop said housing the homeless is part of the Christian mission. The village government shouldn't interfere with church activities, he said, except to ensure safety.

Opponents fear that offering transients places to stay however temporary might be followed by begging or violence, destroying the area's quality of life.

"I think it's just ignorance in general," said Laticia Erwin, 30, as she snuggled her 2-month-old son, Devonte, at the day center of a shelter in nearby Aberdeen.

Miss Erwin, a four-year Marine Corps veteran, left her baby's father and has been relying on church-organized housing while she prepares to become a paralegal.

The controversy over the homeless comes down to zoning. The town planner notified the churches in September that the shelters would violate the community's zoning ordinance for residential areas.

Opponents now want to amend that ordinance to specifically exclude shelters in residential zones. The churches contend the ordinance allows churches all uses.

Mrs. Cox, who lives around the corner from Mr. Bishop's church, said the proposal would devalue property around the churches "for a problem that's nonexistent. There aren't any homeless here."

But Pam Stewart, a 27-year-old Pinehurst native who works as an aide at a senior citizens' home, has been without shelter since Dec. 28 when her landlord evicted her from a mobile home in neighboring Richmond County.

She said church assistance has helped her keep her two sons warm and safe, first in a motel and later in the churches after she was accepted into the residential program.

Without the help, she said, "I would probably be out on the streets."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide