Mary’s House, a nonprofit organization in Greensboro, North Carolina that provides housing and support services for homeless mothers recovering from substance abuse and their children, has received federal funding since 2005. However, in 2010 and 2011, the state of North Carolina denied Mary’s House from its Emergency Shelter Grants fund. After several years of legal battles, Mary’s House settled an agreement to receive a lump-sum payment of $72,500 from the state.
The Emergency Shelter Grants Program provided by North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) is offered to individuals and families coping with homelessness. Mary’s House had received funding which provided $18,000 a year, which is more than 8.5 percent of the annual budget for the shelter.
However, when Mary’s House applied for the program in 2010 and 2011, NC DHHS denied Mary’s House citing the 1991 state rule prohibiting funds for “substance abuse rehabilitation centers.” However, the state rule does not clearly define a “substance abuse rehabilitation center” nor had it been applied to Mary’s House before.
The executive director of the nonprofit, Ms. Craig Thomas, claimed this was discrimination. She states, “All our residents are homeless according to the federal government’s definition. Kicking us out because our people are in recovery is illegal. They are protected by federal law and this rule was a violation of federal law.”
With the help of Legal Aid of North Carolina and law firm Brooks Pierce working the case pro bono, Mary’s House filed a federal lawsuit. During the year long dispute, there were many contested case proceedings in the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings, a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, and a formal investigation by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The past several years was not only tough inside the courtroom, but also outside. The residents of Mary’s House suffered during the time of lost funding. Thomas explained how they “got down to the bare bones. We lowered the thermostat in winter and raised it in the summer. We cancelled activities for the residents. When equipment broke, we couldn’t fix it.”
Despite the struggles Mary’s House faced over the past couple of years, they now won a major victory. Kyle Woosley of law firm Brooks Pierce says, “It’s always a difficult decision to challenge the government, but Mary’s House and its residents felt this was a battle worth fighting. Mary’s House provides critical support services to the homeless in our community. We were honored to represent them through this long legal struggle, and are delighted that we were able to reach a resolution and help Mary’s House receive some much needed funding.”