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Concerned citizens want plan to tackle need in Charlotte

Dozens of Charlotte's human service agencies will begin the new fiscal year today with even tighter budgets to service more people in these tough economic times. Last night, more than 200 people gathered to figure out how Charlotte residents, community leaders, and officials should go about meeting basic needs. And the answer that came back is that Charlotte needs a plan to raise money and efficiently parcel out assistance. WFAE's Lisa Miller has more: The room at Little Rock AME Zion Church was packed with people from churches, non-profits and plenty of others who came on their own to take part in the discussion. A few county commissioners also showed up. Early on, Carol Hardison, the director of Crisis Assistance Ministry, made an observation that stuck with the group. "In the twenty-five, thirty years I've lived in Charlotte, we've had four strategic plans for arts and culture," said Hardison. "We have never had a strategic plan for human services. We don't have a single leader. We don't have a plan." Hardison was part of a panel which fielded questions on how the community can work together to deliver food, shelter and job training to people in need. The question of a strategic plan kept coming up. Lawrence Tolliver, a former vice president at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, stood up and said before the community can have a plan it needs to know what it's aiming at. "When Charlotte wanted a better airport it first had a vision of a better airport. When Charlotte wanted to have professional sports it had a vision for professional sports," said Tolliver. "So I want to know when are we going to get the public and private sectors together for a vision of a real safety net?" Panelists former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt and Mecklenburg County General Manager John McGillicuddy didn't go into specifics, but they said the momentum for a plan needed to start at the grassroots. And Hardison said the community wouldn't have to start from scratch. "We do have people at the grassroots creating public-private partnerships that can be used as a model," replied Hardison. The audience broke up into small groups to start figuring out how the community should meet the needs of so many. In one group, Bob Weeks offered Charlotte's response to Hurricane Katrina victims as proof that with coordination the community can accomplish a lot. "The community came together. They donated money. They donated homes that were vacant. They donated food, clothing," recounted Weeks. "If the community was organized and asked to do something like that we could probably do it on an even larger scale for a longer period of time and help our own." Another member of the group, Brian Barger brought up a subject that was missing from the larger discussion last night. "Everything from DSS issues to United Way, it makes people wonder 'what I gave did it actually get there?' You can't have people wonder that or else they won't do anything," said Barger. Mecklenburg Ministries organized the meeting with the help of the Community Building Initiative and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee.