A man thought to be homeless started a fire outside a thrift store in Lenoir and now has been charged with arson.
The staff at the Goodwill on Blowing Rock Boulevard think that the man — identified by police as Justin Allen Franklin, 27 — was sleeping outside the store and started the fire to keep warm, said Eocia Michaux, the assistant store manager.
The weather recently has seen temperatures reach the high 70s during the day but drop as low as the 50s at night.
She said that Franklin appeared to have been burning boxes and wooden pallets and lost control of the flames.
The fire blackened the store’s loading area and severely damaged light fixtures but did not get inside of the building.
Talishia Moss, the store manager, said that her main concern is the damage to the wiring caused when the flames reached the light fixtures. Still, she said, Franklin was not hurt, and the fire could have been far worse.
Capt. Couby Stilwell said that police are still investigating the circumstances but have charged Franklin with second-degree arson.
Franklin’s bond was set at $20,000 secured.
Sharon Harmon, the executive director of Yokefellow of Caldwell County, a nonprofit that offers a food bank and other resources to people in need, said that the pandemic has made life harder both for those without homes and for the people who are trying to help them.
She said that the Lenoir Emergency Outreach Shelter, the homeless shelter that Yokefellow manages, has the space but not the staff to admit more clients. She said that some staff members have been ill with COVID-19 or other health problems and are still in recovery.
“We have experienced a critical staffing shortage,” she said.
Yokefellow currently has six employees who cover shifts at Yokefellow and then go work at LEOS in order to keep the shelter open. LEOS has four residents right now but could take up to 16 if it had adequate staffing, she said. Currently, Yokefellow is hiring for two overnight staff positions at LEOS.
Additionally, Harmon said, there is very little help for people suffering from addiction and mental illness in the community.
“There’s very limited mental illness, mental health resources, very limited access to resources for those who suffer with addiction in any form or fashion,” she said.
She said that Yokefellow has provided coats, tarps, hand warmers, dry socks and shoes and food to help people without homes, but the need is still great.
“It’s just been a crisis discussion everywhere. It’s not just Lenoir. It is everywhere,” she said.
Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.