By Jennifer Fernandez
PINEHURST — In a small brick house on a narrow street in a community known for its golf courses, several young women found safety, stability and support.
Officially, it’s the Young Women’s Transitional Home of Moore County. But folks here call it TambraPlace, the name the nonprofit’s board members picked to honor the driving force behind its creation — Tambra Chamberlain.
For the young women now living there, it’s home.
A second house now under construction will soon offer the same opportunity to young men in the community who find themselves homeless.
“A lot of youth, they are very, very independent, incredibly smart,” said Chamberlain, a social worker who works for Moore County Schools helping children who are experiencing homelessness. “But what they just need is that stable safe haven for a period of time.”
A place to stay
About 103,000 people call Moore County home, and the poverty rate hovers around 9 percent, according to the latest census data. While that ranks on the low end of county poverty and falls below the state average of 13.4 percent, Moore struggles with the same affordable housing issues that plague other areas of North Carolina, Chamberlain said.
The number of homeless in Moore County doesn’t sound like a lot — 25 people last year, according to the annual point-in-time count that’s conducted nationwide every January. But programs like TambraPlace help meet the need, which often is larger than that one-day snapshot reflects.
With the help of a local church, which donated the use of a home it owns and renovated, the nonprofit has already helped one young woman, until she was able to move into her own housing. Four more now share the home while they work, attend college or both.
Shelter for girls
In her role with Moore County Schools, Chamberlain saw young women graduating high school — or recent graduates — with nowhere to live. Some had been staying with relatives but were asked to leave after getting their diploma. Some aged out of foster care. Some were dealing with abusive relationships.
These were good students, she said, with one major problem holding them back.
“They just need a place to stay that’s stable,” Chamberlain said. “That was the main thing they said they needed.”
In late 2021, TambraPlace welcomed its first resident. The independent living program serves young women 18 to 24 years old, and the three-bedroom home can house up to four young women and a resident adviser.
Chamberlain, who also serves on regional and national groups focused on helping homeless youth, said there aren’t a lot of programs like TambraPlace, especially in rural areas. Most residential programs are for youth involved in the justice system for some type of trouble, such as substance use.
Urban areas offer more opportunities. Greensboro-based Youth Focus, for example, has multiple programs, such as a maternity home, a transitional home and an emergency shelter — all geared toward young people.
Chamberlain said Moore County is lucky to have a shelter at all for people who are unhoused. There’s both a domestic violence shelter and Family Promise, which takes women and children, she said.
But there was nothing for young women on their own. Chamberlain sought to change that.
Finding a home
TambraPlace is meant to provide a safe place for young women who are generally independent but need a place to stay. They may also have suffered abuse or other trauma or could be vulnerable in other ways.
The program has three priorities:
- Provide a safe refuge.
- Reinforce available resources — health, education, welfare, counseling and social skills.
- Support youth who are independent and self-sufficient but due to age and lack of resources are experiencing homelessness.
Young women who are homeless or in imminent danger of becoming homeless can be referred to the program through the school system or agencies such as Family Promise. They cannot have a felony record or serious substance use issue. Participants can enter the program from age 18 to 24 and stay up until age 25.
Residents don’t pay rent or any bills associated with housing. Food is donated, but residents can also buy their own food.
In creating the transitional home, TambraPlace officials visited other places that serve homeless youth and, Ganis said, modeled their program after well-researched programs.
Chamberlain asked that NC Health News use initials to identify participants to help protect them from being exploited.
MM, who became TambraPlace’s first resident when it opened in late 2021, said in an interview that it “feels great” to have a stable home while she pursues an education and career.
She first heard about the plans for what would become TambraPlace when she was in high school. At the time, she lived with an uncle, but she had to leave when she graduated.
She moved around a lot, staying with friends and family. She often took jobs that sent her out of state because they came with a housing stipend while she traveled.
While in state, she sometimes made enough to get a hotel room.
“So I actually, like, carried my house in my car,” she said.
She stayed with a boyfriend for a while, too, but she said that relationship became abusive. She left.
“Then I was like, ‘Where do I go?’ ” MM said.
She decided she wanted to go back to school. She reconnected with Chamberlain and learned that the home for young women was opening in Moore County.
Now she’s back in school, studying networking and cybersecurity. She also helps the program, serving on TambraPlace’s public relations committee, updating the website and helping with social media posts and analytics.
If it weren’t for TambraPlace, “I’m sure I wouldn’t be in school,” MM said.
Community steps up
Chamberlain said community support is crucial for this type of program to work.
And the community is behind it, she said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
TambraPlace partners with several churches that help with supplies and sponsoring fundraisers.
Christine Ganis, a community psychologist and vice chair of TambraPlace’s board, recently dropped off a box full of makeup. It joined shelves lined with shampoo, soap, toothpaste, hair products, adhesive bandages, period supplies and toilet paper, among other items. A cabinet under the kitchen sink holds dish soap, paper towels, laundry detergent and more — some of it from the initial supply drive held before the home opened.
For the boys’ home now under construction, Friends of Pinehurst Surgical Clinic spearheaded a two-day fundraiser that included an auction that brought in $70,000. N.C. Empowering Kids and Communities Foundation gave another $50,000.
The land was donated for the boys’ home, which is in the Eastwood community. Local builder Riley and Walker Homes is providing services at cost and donating or discounting materials, such as the marble countertop in the kitchen that was left over from a different job, Chamberlain said.
The four-bedroom home is mostly constructed. Landscapers still need to spruce up the area around the boys’ house, which sits on enough land that TambraPlace hopes to add more housing there in the future.
Like the girls’ home, it will have space for four residents and a resident adviser.
On April 16, Vision 4 Moore’s Cooper Ford Concert Series will present Sidecar Social Club to raise money for TambraPlace. Tickets were still available as of March 14.
Donations can also be made on TambraPlace’s website.
TambraPlace provides a much needed service in the county, said Peggy Hendrix, executive director of Family Promise of Moore County, which operates a family shelter in Aberdeen.
“I personally see the community gains by supporting these young people and helping them on the path of their next steps,” she said in an email.
Making a home
The girls’ house has a screened-in porch with rattan furniture covered in plush pillows.
Artwork lines the walls in the hallway. Above the mantel in the living room hangs a painting made by Chamberlain. It features a field filled with bright yellow African daisies.
In the kitchen, a chalkboard on one wall reminds everyone of the rules of the house. The residents worked with TambraPlace officials to agree on a list of rules such as:
- “No pots to be left on stove unless clean!”
- “Clean fridge Tuesdays!”
- “No clothes to be left in washer or dryer.”
- “Update goals by 5th every month.”
A smaller list, one crafted by just the residents, adorns the fridge. They agreed on such measures as checking produce weekly, keeping everything organized and forbidding pots from being put in the fridge.
“They follow the rules,” Chamberlain said. “We haven’t had any issues. …They know it’s an opportunity.”
‘A safe haven’
MM said she can’t express how much support she has gotten from TambraPlace, Chamberlain and the many volunteers who made the home possible.
In testimonials gathered by Chamberlain, TC, 19, described TambraPlace as a “safe haven” that is “completely stress-free.”
DC has been a resident since January 2022. She said before TambraPlace, she was going back and forth to places she said were unsafe due to drugs and shootings.
“Without this place, I would be on the streets living in a tent,” said DC, now 21. “I’m also able to go to school without worry about food or a place to call home. Before I wouldn’t even imagine going to college.
“This place is amazing, there should definitely be more places like this.”