As Thanksgiving approaches, the nation’s news cycle focuses on hunger and homelessness. It happens every year. Newspapers and broadcast media love feel-good stories about neighbors helping neighbors. But they don’t spend much time focusing on why so many people don’t have access to basic necessities in the wealthiest nation on the planet.
Homelessness (and hunger) should not be chronic conditions in our community. Homelessness should, at worst, be a temporary condition that is immediately addressed by a robust welfare state. (I’m sorry if those last two words offend you).
Homelessness wasn’t a chronic condition until Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. Reagan cut the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget to the bone. Under Reagan and every president after him, public housing has been marginalized, and homelessness has largely gone unaddressed.
Homelessness is a simple problem of resource allocation. If we as a society provided housing to everyone who needed it, then we wouldn’t have a homeless population. Instead of a housing-first approach that acknowledges that housing is a human right, we fund non-profits like the Bethesda Center to house the homeless. In addition to our tax dollars, non-profits like the Bethesda Center receive funding from private foundations, such as the Winston-Salem Foundation.
Recently, the Bethesda Center bestowed a “Heros for the Homeless” award to Scott Wierman. Wierman was the longtime head of the Winston-Salem Foundation. He recently left the Winston-Salem Foundation to “take over as president and chief executive of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry in Hilton Head, S.C.” The Winston-Salem Foundation has $605 million in assets (as of 2019). According to the most recent 990 form that is publicly available, the W-S Foundation paid Wierman a cool $256 478 in salary and an additional $65,056 in benefits in 2018.
Scott Wierman, no doubt, gave a substantial amount of his former foundation’s money to the Bethesda Center while he was at the helm. He therefore helped the homeless population in our city. But, he could literally afford to give one of his houses (I’m assuming that he has a few) to the homeless. His former foundation, with over half of a billion dollars in their accounts -could end homelessness in Winston tomorrow if they wanted to.
Foundations dole out a million here and a million there, but they don’t touch their nest eggs. That’s a problem. But that aside, imagine how many men, women, and children the Winston-Salem Foundation could have lifted out of poverty with the approximately $10 million that they spent on their new offices on West Fourth Street, back in 2014. Their sleek building on Fourth Street could have been a replacement for Crystal Towers.
The Winston-Salem Foundation’s luxury office building is owned by Tight Link Partners, LLC. As you would imagine, this mysterious limited liability corporation is tight-lipped about who actually owns the $10 million building at 751 W Fourth Street. From all indications, it is owned by the Winston-Salem Foundation.
Prior to 2014, the Winston-Salem Foundation was headquartered in a much more modest building on West Fifth Street. Their old building lacked “a rooftop conference room, covered terrace, or an exercise facility.” Can you imagine the hardships Scott Wierman must have endured in their old space?
Apparently, Scott Wierman was on the top floor of the Winston-Salem Foundation Building when former Councilmember Derwin Montgomery gave him an award via Zoom. Contrast the penthouse lifestyle of now Hilton Head resident Scott Wierman with the difficult realities our homeless brothers and sisters have to endure in and out of the Bethesda Center every day.
The homeless (not Scott Wierman) deserve awards for making it through each day. But they’re not looking for an award or a slap on the back-they just need a safe, decent place to live their lives. And that’s exactly what they deserve. Not a luxury home in Hilton Head, but a nice home in Winston-Salem, NC.
“In 2010, we began an effort to solve the problem of chronic homelessness and end homelessness among our veterans. Today, working together with so many of you, we’ve reduced chronic homelessness by more than 85 percent and ended homelessness among veterans.”566037615_201812_990_2020021117136590