In 1973 a 12 year old girl ran away from home. When the police found her she begged them to let her spend the night in the county jail rather than be taken home. Her home life was so bad she would choose the jail over her own home. This is only one of the many stories of homelessness, abuse and neglect that illustrates why having a youth shelter in western North Carolina is so critical. Hawthorn Heights, the only youth shelter west of Asheville opened in 1976 to provide a safe place for runaway and homeless teens age 12-17. There are countless situations and stories similar to this that are part of the 37 year history of Hawthorn Heights in Bryson City. Over the years the program has provided shelter and support to more than 50 youth every year. According to the data from North Carolina to End Homelessness (2012) and Action for Children N.C. (2009) 10% of our WNC population is homeless, with children making up 83% of the homeless population. In addition, WNC has the highest number of child abuse and neglect cases in N.C.

The current Hawthorn Heights shelter is no longer adequate to meet the needs of the at-risk youth in WNC. Through a gift from the Nancye F. Markle Trust, Barium Springs, that operates Hawthorn Heights, has been able to purchase a larger home which will better meet these needs. The new shelter will allow Barium Springs to provide services for about 15% more youth each year.

With a recent grant of $40,000 from the Evergreen Foundation they have started the renovation process of the 6300 sq. ft. home that will become the new shelter. If they can secure the remainder of the needed funding, they are hoping to have the shelter ready by this fall.

“We are very grateful to Evergreen for their generous support of the teen shelter. Statistics tell us that many youth in the seven western counties are at risk of homelessness and extreme poverty,” shares Sarah Gray, chief development officer of Barium Springs.

“Barium Springs is honored to continue the community’s legacy of caring for teens in need, the legacy that started back in 1976 when Hawthorn Heights first opened.”

In April, Barium Springs will be holding a fund raising campaign to raise the additional revenue for the project. Once phase one, the new shelter is open the agency will begin phase two. This phase will be to renovate the current Hawthorn Heights building to provide a transitional program for youth that have aged out of the current program and needs support to live and work independently. The new program will focus on home management, finances, school and employment for individuals age 16-21.

For additional information on Barium Springs or to make a contribution toward the renovation of the shelter contact Sarah Gray at 704-872-4157 or visit their web site at The mission of the Evergreen Foundation is to improve access to and public awareness of quality prevention, treatment, and support services by the provider community to individuals and families with intellectual/developmental disabilities, behavioral health, and/or substance abuse needs in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties. To learn more about the Evergreen Foundation visit