Are Some of Winston-Salems Homeless Falling Through the Cracks in the System? Part 2

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by Chad Nance


You can read Part 1 of this CCD investigation HERE.

By Staff

Wednesday night, January 30th, the First Baptist “overflow” shelter formally opened its doors and began taking in Winston-Salem’s most vulnerable. Men and women who currently find themselves without a home formed a line up the steps and out onto the sidewalk. Russ May, Kyle Caudle, and Richard Cassidy had a full complement of volunteers assisting in check-in and ready to stay overnight, and the only hiccup seemed to be whether or not they could get the needed number of sleeping mats.

1st Baptist

The previous Monday, individuals from various entities involved in addressing homelessness in our city had met to discuss the current overflow shelter situation. Present at that meeting were representatives from the City of Winston-Salem, the Executive Homeless Council, the Homeless Caucus of C.H.A.N.G.E., the United Way, Anthony’s Plot, First Baptist Church, Centenary United Methodist Church, and the Bethesda Center, as well as mental health advocates. The meeting lasted hours, and everyone had a chance to present their understanding of the issue and what was in process to address the situation.

Bethesda presented their accounting of shelter beds utilized at their facility as well as the number of people who had accessed overflow there throughout the last month. A document obtained by CCD showed 27 people utilized the overflow facility at Bethesda on the night of January 25th. Anywhere from 6-23 people utilized the overflow on various nights in January, and 4 people were sent to Samaritan Ministries in that time period.

The outcome of that meeting was that Anthony’s Plot, Centenary UMC and First Baptist would operate an overflow shelter at First Baptist beginning January 30th and Bethesda would provide check-in assistance at their facility and a paid monitor for the First Baptist facility.

According to that plan, the homeless present on the opening night at First Baptist had begun the evening at Bethesda, where men and women were checked-in and cleared. Clearance amounted to an ID check, some questioning, and a wanding to check for weapons. The stated purpose was to identify the clients and determine if they belonged in any of the other local programs. If they checked out, they were sent on to First Baptist for the night.

Russ May then drove van loads of people from Bethesda to First Baptist. Once there, the men lit up their last cigarettes before going inside as they talked amongst themselves, waiting once again to get inside of the shelter. A volunteer at the door spoke to Russ then started letting people in two at a time to check in. Once more at the door they were wanded and searched, this time by a man who identified himself as a homeless individual himself who was volunteering for Bethesda. That man claimed a mat in the overflow area near the room where the monitors would sit for the night.

1st Baptist

The men and women were directed to a folding table where they laid out their belongings and talked to another two volunteers who checked them in by writing down their name. The overnight guests were handed toiletries, then given a brief outlay of ground rules for the facility. Each person was directed to store their belongings in a 15-gallon plastic tub identified with a number. Those tubs were then stacked up in a room off of the gym where only volunteers were allowed. Stacked in that church basement was every single belonging possessed by the 30 people in the other room. Entire lives in flimsy storage waiting until the next day when each person would line up, reclaim their existence then venture back up the stairs into the cold.

First Baptist Church sheltered a full house that first evening. Once word had hit the streets that there was a place to go that WASN’T Bethesda and that offered shelter and a warm place to sleep, First Baptist became the promised land for the cold, the tired, and the weary. Everything went smoothly for that first night, and the guests and hosts alike seemed pleased with the progress.

On Thursday night January 31st, CCD received a call from a source that told us Bethesda was turning people away in spite of the fact that there was now a flourishing overflow shelter at First Baptist Church.

Upon arrival at Bethesda, CCD saw several men milling about outside. When asked if anyone was being turned away, one thin, older man spoke up immediately. “Yes. Me.” he said. He went on to state that they had taken his EBT (food benefit) card when he was inside attempting to check-in, reportedly because he did not have an ID, and now they would not let him back in for shelter or to retrieve his card. He was not on the list to go to the shelter at First Baptist either.


Another man there said that he had seen people turned away. While CCD was talking to him Brandon Kane, an employee of Bethesda who was working as the overnight monitor at First Baptist, approached. When asked if Peggy Galloway was there Mr. Kane said, “We can’t have nobody around tonight. No press.”

“So Ms. Galloway isn’t here?”

“No and she doesn’t want anybody around tonight.”

“Have you turned anyone away tonight?” CCD asked.

“No.” Brandon answered.

“You turned no one away at all?”


“So no one is going to tell us that they were turned away?”

“No.” Brandon said again. The man who claimed someone had stolen his EBT card started to speak up again. He began to grow belligerent and threatened violence. He told everyone standing there that he would almost rather go to jail than to stay out in the cold all night. Later that evening CCD saw this man at the First Baptist shelter.

Following that exchange, CCD went to the First Baptist Shelter to speak to people who might confirm that people had been turned away from Bethesda. Three men who wished to remain anonymous, fearing retaliation or black-listing by Bethesda staff, told CCD that men had been turned away that night. “People just talk to you nasty there. They treat people bad. Yell and curse at people and steal people’s stuff.” He claimed that routinely people utilizing the services of Bethesda would have items stolen or taken from them.

One man told CCD that Galloway and her staff arbitrarily choose who can stay. “They like you they let you stay. They mad at you and they will tell you to get on,” he said. “I seen them let a man who was drunk in and sit him up in a chair then turnt away my friend for no good reason.”

While CCD was talking to men at the First Baptist shelter the man who the night before acknowledged that he was a homeless individual volunteering for the Bethesda Center was holding a metal detecting wand like a billy club and standing over the reporter and whomever he was talking to as if he were trying to listen in to the conversations. His body language made it clear that he was listening and eye contact between him and other consumers suggested he was somehow intimidating them. CCD left the shelter after determining that everyone who had sought shelter there had been admitted and the facility had been locked down for the night.

On Friday February 1st, CCD was contacted by a source who declared that word was out that someone was going to inform the City that First Baptist was serving more people than their permit would allow. Just after check-in began, CCD arrived at the overflow shelter.

Once on site it was clear that there was a real fear among those present that people would be put out on the streets. The mood was dark, with the men waiting on line just inside of church, but locked out from the gym, which offered sleeping mats and a place to stay out of the harsh weather outside.

Brandon Kane from Bethesda was telling people that only twenty people would be allowed to stay and anyone beyond that would have to leave. This was what his superiors Carl Potter and Peggy Galloway had instructed him to tell clients. Russ May had told the men to stay in the hallway and that he would do everything he could, including calling shelters in Greensboro, to try to find everyone a place to stay for the night.

Confusion from the people in power sent ripples of panic through people waiting on the other side of the windowed doors to the gym. When living on the razors edge, any fear – real or imagined- that someone might shove you off the other side breeds instant anxiety. In many cases that kind of fear is closely followed with anger. One man began yelling that he didn’t want to be put out in the streets and that it wasn’t fair that there were people already inside and laying down. Another man was extremely intoxicated and he began to exchange slurred words with the guy who was yelling. The threat of escalation was real and the mood was quickly turning dark as threats of violence were made. The loud yelling and screaming drew the attention of those who had already made it into the shelter. The focus was drawn in on the altercation that was brewing, and law enforcement had to be called because of the threats.

Even after law enforcement left and Russ May assured the waiting men that he would continue to work to find them shelter, the general atmosphere of the place remained on edge and brittle with fear. People who had already been let into the shelter began looking around at those who didn’t have a numbered card from Bethesda’s check-in, wondering if the extras would be thrown out. Talk was that Bethesda had chosen 20 people for overflow earlier that day, and there were indeed 20 people possessing numbered cards from Bethesda.

Volunteers’ faces were tight and spooked. It wasn’t just the earlier outburst. Word had gone around the shelter that Peggy Galloway was on the way to First Baptist and would be making all but twenty people leave. The people in the room seemed to possess a genuine fear and suspicion of Galloway and Bethesda staff.

Bethesda Director Carl Potter arrived first. Russ May and Richard Cassidy let Potter confer with Kane. Once they had counted people and talked off to the side, Potter came back into the stairwell to speak with May and Cassidy. Potter kept his tone flat and professional, but it was clear that he had in his mind that only 20 people could be housed in the First Baptist shelter in spite of the fact that First Baptist was operating on a permit that allows for 30 people. Potter said that what First Baptist was permitted to do was irrelevant because Bethesda was in charge and “responsible.” “We’re (Bethesda) permitted for 20, that’s what we can do.” Potter stated authoritatively.

Rev. May pointed out that Bethesda has earlier claimed to have over 30 people at night in their day room. “Those people aren’t overflow.” Potter said. “That’s why they have to sit in the day room because it is a warming station.”

May smiled. “Then this is a warming station and we just won’t call it overflow. We can do the same thing.”

“Bethesda Center is in charge of this shelter.” Potter reiterated, “And we can only have 20 in overflow. That’s what we agreed on wasn’t it?”

Richard Cassidy admitted that they had all agreed to let Bethesda check people in, but pointed out that the conversation was not just about numbers. “It is about people who God has given breath,” Cassidy said, clearly stunned that Potter could talk about a 20 person “quota” or “limit” so dispassionately when the net result of limiting First Baptist to twenty would be that people identified as needing shelter would end up sleeping on the street.

“Look. I don’t want to bring God into this.” Potter said, then indicated that Peggy Galloway was on her way. The conversation ended until her arrival. It was clear to everyone in that stairwell that Russ May and Richard Cassidy had every intention of allowing the facility to shelter as many people as they could under their understanding of the permit for the location. It was equally clear that Potter and Bethesda intended to maintain a tight grip of control over the situation and the human beings involved in it.

When Galloway arrived the conversation began again. Once more the same impasse was reached within moments. Kyle Caudle of First Baptist pointed out once more that they were permitted for at least as many as 28 people.

“Bethesda is permitted for 20 and we are in charge of this shelter.” Galloway insisted. The argument went nowhere. May and Cassidy were adamant that as many people as could be sheltered would be sheltered. Galloway was adamant that Bethesda was in charge and that she didn’t care what First Baptist was permitted for the number that Bethesda could handle was 20 and no one would do anymore.

“We aren’t trying to kill these people.” Potter said clearly irritated. “We just want to follow the rules.”

Galloway could clearly see that the argument was going nowhere. She expressed her irritation to May and Cassidy, telling them that having the conversation there at the shelter near clients was unprofessional and sent the wrong message to the consumers. She was especially displeased that a member of the press was around, she told CCD and those gathered. Since the situation was as it was, however, Galloway said, Bethesda would just let those at First Baptist do what needed to be done, but she was adamant that Bethesda had nothing to do with the decision to shelter anyone beyond 20 people nor were the liable for anything that might occur. “We are not responsible for anything that goes on here this weekend.” Galloway said, but agreed to allow Kane, Bethesda’s paid monitor, work for the remainder of the weekend as previously determined.

checking in

Galloway was clearly angry that her authority and that of Bethesda Center had been, from her perspective, usurped by May and Cassidy. She reminded them that there would be a meeting Monday and that the situation would be addressed and she predicted that it would be clear that Bethesda was in charge going forward. For the time being, however, human beings got to stay indoors, out of the elements… and were not limited to just twenty.

In spite of Galloway and Potter’s declaration that Bethesda holds a permit to shelter twenty people in overflow, CCD confirmed earlier in that day that not only does Bethesda not possess a current permit to operate an overflow shelter, they have not submitted the proper paperwork to even have a permit processed. The City confirmed that four people within the office were on standby to assist with the rapid turnaround of the paperwork, but that Bethesda had not submitted the plans necessary to complete a permit application.

This is the paperwork that Bethesda stated was in process and expected to be finalized within “three weeks” when CCD inquired about the issue on January 25th.



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