Man Found Dead On The Steps Of A DTWS Church

A man was found dead Tuesday on the steps outside Our Lady of Fatima Church in downtown Winston-Salem. The W-S Journal’s John Hinton reported that “Michael Todd Smith, 60, who had no permanent address,” was lying near the church’s Cherry Street entrance when police found him unresponsive. No foul play is suspected, but Mr. Smith’s homeless status may have been a factor in his death.

“Populations experiencing homelessness have three times the risk of cardiovascular disease, twenty times the risk of developing tuberculosis, and higher rates of uncontrolled diabetes, trauma, and sexual assault than their housed equivalents.” -Zachary German

The building that houses Our Lady of Fatima Church at the corner of Cherry and Third Street was built in 1906. It was Winston’s first public library. In fact, it was a Carnegie Public Library, funded by the wealth of robber baron Andrew Carnegie. It was converted into a church in 1954 when the County built a larger library on West Fifth Street.

Our Lady of Fatima Church is a successful example of what the City of Winston-Salem calls “adaptive reuse and revitalization.” A building no longer suitable for its original purpose was quickly sold and repurposed. The Spruce Street YMCA is another example of adaptive reuse and revitalization.

It’s been just over three years since the former Budget Inn at Peters Creek and Academy Street was demolished. The Peters Creek Community Initiative (PCCI) was gifted the crumbling hotel property with $1.2 million in combined subsidies from the City and County. PCCI officials assured Councilmembers and Commissioners that they could secure grant funding to redevelop the old inn into some affordable housing units. But now it’s 2023, and PCCI is asking the City Council for $2.7 million in additional funds. No end date for the project is in sight.

Michael Todd Smith’s tragic death reminds us that we need public housing shelters aren’t enough. Emergency housing for the most vulnerable among us is crucial.

If the City of Winston-Salem had done the simplest, cheapest thing, renovated the old Budget Inn, and converted it into emergency housing, perhaps Michael Todd Smith would still be alive today.

Greensboro has successfully converted an aging motel into an emergency shelter. We could have learned from their example and skipped the long, costly process of demolition, design, planning, and financing.

But then, we would still have the skeleton of the old Budget Inn in place, which is unacceptable to local elites who want to continue to pour more money into the ballpark adjacent neighborhood and push more poor folks out.

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