Mike Ussery pleaded with Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris and the City Council Tuesday night to help the homeless or, if nothing else, ease existing restrictions to allow others to do the helping.
Ussery, a member of Cartledge Creek Baptist Church on Holly Grove Church Road, wondered aloud if some of the city’s ordinances might be prohibiting churches and other social service agencies from helping the homeless.
“It’s a pretty cold night to come out tonight,” Ussery told council members on a night the overnight low was expected to be about 31 degrees with a mix of light rain, sleet and snow.
Ussery said he saw a man combing through garbage bins in downtown Rockingham earlier that day looking for plastic bags.
“I know what he was intending to do,” Ussery said. “It was going to be raining. He was going to wrap himself in plastic bags.”
Ussery thanked city officials for clarifying that the site of the former Baker House, where a homeless shelter and soup kitchen operated for more than two decades before burning to the ground this summer, would again be allowed under a conditional-use permit. But the need is now, he said, not months from now — or longer — when the money is available to rebuild.
“We see it as a mission,” Ussery said of church congregations’ desire to help those less fortunate. “We see it as homeless people hungry, in need of help.”
Ussery asked the city to consider backing off the enforcement of unspecified ordinances that prohibit organizations from distributing food or other assistance in certain areas of the city.
Ussery spoke of “desperate situations” and hoped the city would allow even temporary assistance in a spot within city limits that otherwise wouldn’t allow such assistance to be rendered.
“They have no place to go,” Ussery said. “We know that. They have no food and they’re within the city of Rockingham. Their needs are great. We can turn and look the other way and say they’re not there, but they are.”
Ussery spoke of the urgency of the situation as cold weather set in.
“We can wait ‘til next month or March or next April,” he said, “but what about tonight? And what about two weeks from now? The weather’s going to continue to get colder. The situation is not going to get any better on its own. With your help, something can be done.”
No one from the city spoke on the subject or addressed Ussery.