Today, an update on a Charlotte housing story we’ve been following since March in our series "Finding Home."
Gracious Hands is a three-year-old program in northwest Charlotte that helps homeless women and children get back on track and into permanent housing. One of those women is Lyn Alexis, who was living out of her car with her daughter before moving to Gracious Hands.
"I think being here has helped me grow in a lot of ways," she said earlier this summer.
Alexis recently started a new chapter in her life, moving out of the home — and out of Charlotte. But now, Gracious Hands is facing homelessness itself.
In eight months at Gracious Hands, she got her nursing assistant certification (CNA), found work as a CNA and began saving money. Then in August, she packed up and moved to Texas.
“She got a call from a cousin that the auntie wasn't going to live much longer, and they wanted her to come and take care of the auntie,” said Sonja Chisholm, who runs Gracious Hands.
WFAE wasn’t able to speak with Alexis, and Chisholm said she hasn't heard from her since she left. But Chisholm isn't concerned.
“She left on a very good note. Very energetic, and she saved $2,200. She did get her CNA,” Chisholm said. “I'm sure that she'll reach out at some point in time, but I'm not worried about it because Lyn is a natural butterfly. She's going to be alright with that smile and personality. Lyn will be just fine.”
Gracious Hands houses five women and their children. Chisholm helps the women find jobs, improve life skills and fix past credit and housing problems. Chisholm said Lyn told her it made a difference:
“Before she left she said, ‘Miss Sonja, I'm stronger now in my being than I've ever been in my life.’ She said, 'I have so much confidence and I know I can do things now.'”
PROGRAM WITHOUT A HOME
Stories like Alexis' are why Chisholm started Gracious Hands three years ago. But now, the program's future is uncertain. This summer, the landlord decided not to renew the lease, saying she "has other plans for the property."
Chisholm said the notice came after a series of disagreements over code violations, including sewage problems.
The lease on the house on North Hoskins Road ended Aug. 31, but Chisholm is hoping to buy some time to look for a new house.
“I have to be the advocate. I cannot allow these women back out on the streets," she said. "I'm looking every day."
Chisholm said she sent a rent check for September, but the landlord returned it. The property management company said an eviction notice is coming soon. So, Chisholm is fighting.
And so is the board president of Gracious Hands Basil Foster.
“We're trying to get them into housing, and employment, great things," Foster said. "And here we are providing it, and now we're getting evicted out because of something that's out of our control."
There are obstacles to finding a new home. A group home like Gracious Hands may need an exception to city zoning rules that limit group homes. And she said many landlords won't rent to a program like hers. She'd prefer to buy, so she doesn't have to deal with a landlord. But then there's the matter of price.
“We're looking. We're wanting to purchase — that’s the plan. But everything is so expensive. And I'm like, 'Oh wow,’” Chisholm said.
A fundraiser in August brought in about $21,000 to help with a down payment. That was about half what Chisholm hoped to raise. But she's trying to be optimistic, and so is Foster.
“Yes, we have to be [optimistic] because you know if we can't secure housing, our hands are tied,” he said. “So, we really need someone who has a house willing to rent to us, you know, so that we can keep moving forward. But the clock is ticking.”
Foster said he hopes the landlord will give Gracious Hands enough time to find a new home. He said it wouldn't be a good thing to make these women homeless again.