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United Way will lead Mecklenburg County's homelessness initiative

homeless camp under bridge
Jesse Steinmetz

Mecklenburg County has chosen United Way of Central Carolinas to oversee the development and execution of a long-term plan to reduce and prevent homelessness in the Charlotte area.

The announcement Thursday is the latest step forward for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Homelessness and Housing Strategy. The public-private initiative was launched in April 2021 with the goal to ensure everyone in Mecklenburg County has access to safe, affordable housing, and that homelessness is rare, brief and nonrecurring by 2026.

The strategy was launched by a coalition of nonprofits, companies like Bank of America and Atrium Health, faith organizations and government agencies.

The groups spent about a year running focus groups and compiling ideas into a "Strategic Framework," published in January. United Way will now develop those ideas into an actionable plan over the next several months.

Theframework outlined four main priorities:

  • Address historical and structural inequities.
  • Expand shelter space and affordable housing
  • Encourage more coordination between agencies
  • Create long-term, sustainable changes to the county's homeless support system

The document also included some more specific recommendations, such as turning hotels and motels into low-income housing, expanding social programs, and finding ways to encourage more landlords to accept housing vouchers.

Mecklenburg County has budgeted about $778,000 to give to United Way for the initiative. United Way's chief impact officer, Kathryn Firmin-Sellers, said the nonprofit planned to use the funding to hire three new staff members for the program — including a director, a strategy coordinator, and an evaluation manager who will assess the initiative's success — and pay for other costs related to the effort.

Firmin-Sellers said she hoped to make the new hires and find a consultant to partner with in the coming months. Once the consultant and the new hires are on board, Firmin-Sellers said the development of a strategic plan might take six to eight months.

In the meantime, the city, county and other partners will focus on some short-term projects, including the county's purchase of a hotel that will be converted into supportive housing for older adults.

County data shows homelessness has been rising in recent months. The county said an estimated 3,219 people were homeless in April 2022, the most recent month for which data was available.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal