More people are homeless in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County this year, and those in homeless shelters and transitional homes are staying longer. That's according to a new report on housing and homelessness commissioned by the city and county, and authored by UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute. The annual report took a different look at homelessness this time around.
According to the report, officials counted nearly 1,700 homeless people in Charlotte-Mecklenburg on the night of January 31. That represents an increase of 13 percent from the one-night count last year.
The report also found that the number of homeless people who stayed at shelters last year was down 17 percent. But the average amount of time people stayed in emergency shelters a year ago increased from 71 to 77 days.
Ashley Clark, a UNC Urban Institute researcher who co-authored the report, said those numbers are only part of the picture. She said for the first time this year, the report combined the annual homeless statistics with other data associated with housing instability in the Charlotte area. For example, the study found that 43 percent of people are cost burdened, meaning they are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
Clark said eviction filings are also up slightly from a year ago to more than 29,000, which sometimes leads to homelessness when people have to move and can’t find new housing because of an eviction judgment.
“The hope is that by having more data on state of housing and homelessness — and by looking at them in conjunction with each — those making policy will have more information in making decisions,” Clark said. “By looking at it as a continuum and how the challenges and solutions are linked, it will help them as they look to more options to creating pathways to stable housing for the most vulnerable.”
Clark said another first is that the study did a survey, asking homeless people what was the biggest barrier they faced in getting housing. The top two answers dealt with economic mobility and opportunity.
“39 percent said their biggest barrier to finding affordable housing was a lack of housing that was affordable to them," Clarks said, "And 22 percent said a lack of employment was the reason they couldn’t find stable housing."
The homelessness report also found that fewer permanent beds for homeless people are available, and rising housing costs are far outpacing income increases. Clark said decision makers need to take all of these factors into consideration when seeking solutions to the area’s homelessness issue.