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Massive mission to help the homeless in Winston-Salem taking shape

A thick cloud of cigarette smoke clogged the air outside the entrance to a low slung brick building on Spring Street the other evening.

A small crowd had gathered and huddled on the concrete steps leading into the rapidly transforming offices of City With Dwellings, a homeless outreach organization initially formed to help the people find emergency shelter in the winter.

Many had been there before and knew the drill. Others had not. Men mostly, but a surprisingly large number of women made their way over. A small fleet of church vans and buses would soon arrive to take anyone who asked to a warm place to stay on a bitterly cold night.

The precision and order, a nightly occurrence right at 7 p.m., is enough to impress the Swiss.

“One-hundred people in 50 minutes,” said Lea Thullbery, the group’s outreach coordinator.

And witnessing it firsthand was more than enough reason to try and learn something about the big things being done by such a small organization.

Meeting a need

The basics about the organization are easy enough to track down.

It started in 2012 after the city lost an emergency shelter that operated during the winter. Community groups and civic organizations came together to locate a handful of churches willing to fill that void.

An umbrella organization to coordinate collaboration was needed, so the Rev. Russ May and a few others stepped in and up.

“City with Dwellings: A Community First Initiative, works to end the crisis of homelessness in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County by building therapeutic, sustained community for individuals who are experiencing homelessness and persons who struggle with chronic homelessness,” reads a description from a grant application.

Sounds great, but what exactly does that mean?

The details, the real world explanation can be found with the opportunity to see City with Dwellings volunteers and employees at work — in particular Thulbery, the group’s outreach coordinator.

One moment, she might be sitting side by side among a sea of legs and feet listening patiently as a frightened and confused woman explained a particular problem she was having. “Come see me. We’ll figure something out,” she said.

The next, she was standing to meet the gaze of a rambunctious, intoxicated young man named Cameron Thompson and telling him firmly that he needed to either get on a van headed to an overflow shelter or move along.

Remarkably, less than 5 minutes after walking away, Thompson was her fiercest advocate.

“If anything ever happened to her, if anyone ever threatened her … I’d take a bullet for Miss Lea,” he said. “That lady goes to bed every night praying for people, all people, and she means it.”

People make it go

Since its inception to deal with a crisis situation, City With Dwellings grew quickly. Congregations from Augburg Lutheran, First Presbyterian, New Story and St. Timothy’s Episcopal offered space for overnight shelters.

Other churches loaned out buses and vans for reliable, free transportation. The Winston-Salem Transit Authority did, too.

“We’re taking anybody in any condition,” Thullbery said, meaning that City with Dwellings would take in obviously intoxicated people or those in the middle of a mental-health episode when other shelters might not. “We learned a lot.”

In 2014, City with Dwellings found office space from Centenary United Methodist on Fourth Street with room to operate a day shelter. Volunteers started building a network of resources and began connecting the homeless with available programs and services.

In 2015, Thullbery quit her full-time job and became a founding member of the official City With Dwellings 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Another move to a brick building on Fifth Street, also owned by Centenary, followed as word spread about the organization.

Generous grants in 2018 from the Kate B. Reynolds Foundation for more than $130,000 enabled City with Dwellings to purchase office equipment and begin planning for another move and expansion, in summer 2019 to the brick building at the corner of Spring and Sixth streets.

“For the first time we’re actual grown-ups paying our own rent,” Thullbery said.

Demolition and renovation began in earnest in the fall. Volunteers, including some of the men the organization serves, gutted the insides and framed office walls.

Drop cloths, paint rollers and a row of brand new toilets awaiting installation were in the center of the main room where a new day shelter will soon operate. In another corner, a kitchen is rounding into shape.

“If everything goes according to schedule, maybe by the end of (this week) we’ll be able to get a certificate of occupancy,” said Ryan Sprinkle, a monitor at Augsburg’s night shelter who’s spent untold hours on construction.

He estimates volunteers have saved at least $50,000 on labor costs. “Less on labor, more for good quality material that will last,” he said.

It’s been a remarkable (and relatively quick) period of growth for the organization. Building space, money — grants and donations — helped fuel it, of course.

But it’s nothing without the people who make it go. People like Lea Thullbery.

“If I got half of what she does, I just might make it to heaven,” said volunteer Duke Isom, a retired minister. “Write that down. She deserves (the praise).”

PHOTOS: City with Dwellings

Z-no-digital
Kobe Bryant left deep legacy in LA sports, basketball world

CALABASAS, Calif. — NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others were killed Sunday when their helicopter plunged into a steep hillside in dense morning fog in Southern California, his sudden death at age 41 touching off an outpouring of grief for a star whose celebrity transcended basketball.

The chopper went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Authorities said nine people were aboard and presumed dead. Bryant, an all-time basketball great who spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, was among the victims, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press.

Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, also was killed, a different person familiar with the case said.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva would not confirm the identities of the victims Sunday pending official word from the coroner.

“God bless their souls,” Villanueva said at a news conference.

The cause of the crash was unknown.

News of the charismatic superstar’s death rocketed around the sports and entertainment worlds, with many taking to Twitter to register their shock, disbelief and anguish.

“Words can’t describe the pain I am feeling. I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me,” retired NBA great Michael Jordan said. “We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force.”

The medical examiner’s office said specialists were working at the scene to recover the bodies, and investigators were trying to confirm identities. Federal transportation safety investigators were en route.

According to data from flight-tracking service Flightradar24, the helicopter was flying at about 160 knots (184 mph) and descending at a rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute when it crashed.

Among other things, investigators will look at the pilot’s history, the chopper’s maintenance history, and the records of its owner and operator, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference.

All around the world, people were glued to their phones and TV screens as news of the crash spread and networks broke into programming with live coverage. A visibly shaken LeBron James wiped his eyes with tissues and walked away alone from the Lakers plane that had just landed in Southern California.

Thousands of people gathered to mourn Bryant outside the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. Mourners in No. 24 jerseys mixed with those in fancy dress arriving at the downtown arena for Sunday evening’s Grammy Awards.

People carried flowers and chanted “Kobe!” and “MVP!” under giant video screens showing Bryant’s smiling face.

“This is where we needed to be,” said Naveen Cheerath, 31.

Bryant retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, finishing two decades with the Lakers as a prolific shot-maker with a sublime all-around game and a relentless competitive ethic. He held that spot in the league scoring ranks until Saturday night, when the Lakers’ James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant’s hometown.

“Continuing to move the game forward (at)KingJames,” Bryant wrote in his last tweet. “Much respect my brother.”

Bryant had one of the greatest careers in recent NBA history and became one of the game’s most popular players as the face of the 16-time NBA champion Lakers franchise. He was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, and he earned 12 selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.

His Lakers tenure was marred by scandal, however, when in 2003 Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. Prosecutors later dropped the felony sexual assault charge at the request of the accuser. The woman later filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.

Bryant went on to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010, and retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game.

After leaving the game, Bryant had more time to play coach to daughter Gianna, who had a budding basketball career of her own and, her father said, wanted to one day play in the WNBA. He regularly showcased her talents on the court on social media.


Business
Workplace deaths in NC rise to 53, including one in Forsyth

The Triad and Northwest North Carolina accounted for 10 of the 53 workplace fatalities statewide in 2019, including one in Forsyth County, the N.C. Labor Department reported Friday.

Workplace deaths have occurred in Forsyth in eight of the past 11 years.

The state Labor totals exclude workplace deaths handled by the U.S. Labor Department, such as traffic accidents — which typically account for a majority of workplace fatalities — and on farms with 10 or fewer employees.

Law-enforcement agencies investigate homicides and suicides that occur at workplaces.

State Labor officials, as is department policy, did not identify by name the workers who died. There were 50 male and three female victims statewide, up from 37 male and two female in 2018.

A Sparta man died Sept. 10 after he was injured in a workplace incident at HPFabrics Inc. at 3821 Kimwell Drive in Winston-Salem. The victim was identified as Bryan Adkins, 55.

A preliminary investigation by the N.C. Division of Occupational Safety and Health determined that employees were loading fabric rolls into a storage container when two employees were hit by a forklift and pinned between the forklift and pallets

Adkins was killed in the incident, and another employee was injured, according to Winston-Salem police and Dolores Quesenberry, a Labor Department spokeswoman.

There were four workplace deaths in Guilford County, two in Randolph and Stokes counties and one in Watauga County.

The state labor department tracks only work-related fatalities that fall within its jurisdictional authority for conducting inspections.

Forsyth had one example of a workplace homicide.

A man armed with two handguns barged into a breakroom at the Municipal Services Center at 6:30 a.m. Dec. 20 and shot 48-year-old Terry Cobb at close range, Winston-Salem Police said. Cobb was the only person targeted directly.

The gunman, Steven Dewayne Haizlip, 61, ran outside the building after the shooting and lay in wait for police. Police said Haizlip opened fire on a group of police officers, shooting Sgt. Cameron Stewart Sloan twice. Police returned fire multiple times, killing Haizlip.

The Guilford deaths involved: an 80-year-old male with Triangle Grading & Paving Inc. who was found under a truck on March 20; a 51-year-old male with Jose Mortes Roofing Inc. who fell from a roof on May 17; a 62-year-old male with SBS-NC LLC who was struck by ceiling debris on June 30; and a 56-year-old male with Eddie Gerrald & Co. who fell from a platform on Dec. 31.

The Randolph deaths involved: a 38-year-old male with the N.C. Zoo who fell during a rescue drill on July 18; and a 49-year-old male with Snavely Forest Products Inc. who fell from a forklift on Aug. 8.

The Surry deaths involved: a 59-year-old male with Kenneth Moody’s Garage Inc. who was struck by a vehicle on Jan. 19; and a 76-year-old male with Surry County’s Flat Rock Recycling Center who was listed as falling from elevation on July 18. 

Surry County Public Works Department said the recycling center employee died from complications from multiple rib fractures from the fall.

The Watauga death involved a 25-year-old male with Maymead Inc. who was struck by a vehicle on July 26.

Falls accounted for 17 work-related deaths statewide, while struck-by-vehicle accounted for 15.

The construction industry remained the most hazardous industry in the state with 20 work-related deaths, up from 16 in 2018 and 15 in 2017.

There were eight fatalities each in transportation and public utilities, and in manufacturing.