Carrboro organizers of much-needed community discussion tonight about poverty and homelessness will elevate future conversations about plans to expand services in the area. “A Conversation on Poverty, Homelessness, Hunger in Carrboro/Chapel Hill” starts at 7 p.m. at The ArtsCenter, 300 E. Main St.

According to a Facebook announcement for the event: “The goal of this conversation is to create greater community engagement in these vital issues. Alleviating chronic hunger and homelessness should be a community wide effort.”

In this week’s issue, the INDY looks at misgivings and misunderstandings in neighborhoods around Homestead Park that ultimately put a cap on emergency beds for homeless men in Chapel Hill—a limitation that worries Inter-Faith Council director Michael Reinke and others.

That’s not the only hot item IFC has on its plate. The nonprofit wants to relocate its daily kitchen services at 100 W. Rosemary St. in Chapel Hill. A proposal to build a new FoodFirst center at 110 Main St. in Carrboro has met with opposition, based on a fear of homeless men loitering after they receive services and complaints that IFC and the town failed to communicate with neighborhood stakeholders. It looks like the IFC Community House fight all over again.

The complaints this time came from business owners. Sixty of them signed a petition that was read to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen at a meeting in November.

Eric Knight, the “Hoopla Czar” at Carrboro’s Steel String Craft Brewery, did not sign that petition. He had attended meetings with other downtown business owners about FoodFirst and didn’t like much of what he was hearing.

“I had very little knowledge, previously, of what the problem was,” says Knight. “And so I attended a few of these meetings, and I felt so uncomfortable by, I guess, the tone. And I felt as if the business interests that had organized were trying to drum up opposition, I guess, to the idea. I just felt it was kind of an incomplete conversation.”

Knight reached out to Reinke, and soon, they were having dinner together at the IFC Kitchen with Carrboro business people, including Tamara Sanders at the Clean Machine bike shop, Cliff Collins of Cliff’s Meat Market and David Summer of Framer’s Corner. Reinke recalls that right after the meal ended, he had the opportunity to demonstrate that some fears about homeless people downtown may be exaggerated.

“We stayed there until we stopped serving dinner,” says Reinke. “We left the building and walked a little bit on Rosemary Street. I asked everybody to turn around—it was right at seven o’clock, and nobody was there. The reason why is that after you give people a meal at the Community Kitchen, they leave.”

Knight’s idea for tonight’s ArtsCenter event came out of that experience. Reinke says he’ll be there, but he wants everyone to know it’s not an IFC event.

Activities will begin with a brief introduction, including statistical information about poverty, hunger and homelessness in the area. Molly De Marco, an Orange County activist and OrangePolitics blog editor, put together a three-person panel to lead the conversation.

Here’s her rundown, from an email to the INDY: Maggie West is the Program Coordinator for the Community Empowerment Fund. She and Jon Young and some other folks started it when they were UNC students. Here is their website:

Maggie and CEF work directly with homeless and formerly homeless people in Orange County to help them with saving, budgeting, getting housed. It’s a great model of partnering UNC students with people struggling with homelessness.

Desmond Frierson, MSW, LCSW-A is with Housing for New Hope was, until recently, the outreach worker for Orange County, working with people who are homeless.

Both will provide an overview of what homelessness looks like in Orange County: Who is homeless? Where do they stay? Where do they receive services? They will also talk about the services they provide and insight into working with this population.

Satana Neberry, a native of Hamlet, NC, is a graduate of Princeton (B.A.) and Duke Universities (J.D. and M.B.A.), and brings nearly two decades of experience in policy, regulatory, governmental, administrative, human resource and contractual/legal matters. She’s worked for the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Washington, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and Durham’s Self Help Credit Union. Recently, during 2011-12, she served as Interim Executive Director of Durham Habitat for Humanity.

After the panel discussion, people will split into groups and discuss our their own experiences, ideas and concerns. That information will be compiled to promote further discussion.

And there’s much to discuss. Last week, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education bounced around the idea of allowing the IFC kitchen to share its Lincoln Center campus on South Merritt Mill Road with a health clinic for students.

From The News & Observer:

School officials are working on a plan to renovate the building to add space and create a centralized preschool programto serve the entire district. The design process for the renovation is underway, and construction is slated to begin in 2017, provided Orange County voters approve a bond package in November to fund facility upgrades.

Representatives from the Inter-Faith Council and Piedmont Health approached school administrators about constructing an additional building on the site to house a food pantry, community kitchen, medical facility and dental clinic.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese said he sees potential for collaboration.

“I saw opportunity for the families and students that we serve, specifically the Pre-K students and Phoenix students, who would have access to on-site health care and dental services,” LoFrese told the board. “Families in need could have access to the food pantry, and Phoenix students could receive on-site training in the healthcare industry.”

He acknowledged there could be challenges, including hammering out a lease agreement, managing parking and ensuring student safety.

Whatever site is determined to be the most appropriate, Knight says he’s confident that Carrboro will come together on this.

“Carrboro, in general—we have lofty morals and believe in supporting our poorer populations,” he says. “I would like to see that happen regularly. I think it’s a good time to have this conversation.”