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Salvation Army helps move homeless families into shelters and affordable housing

Booth Commons at Mulberry Family Center, a Salvation Army shelter to keep homeless families intact in Charlotte.
Courtesy of Salvation Army
Booth Commons at Mulberry Family Center, a Salvation Army shelter to keep homeless families intact in Charlotte. The Salvation Army purchased the former hotel after lessons learned in the pandemic. The organization currently has a $32 million campaign underway to raise funds in support of three areas, including the renovation of Booth Commons.

Maj. Todd Mason and his wife, Maj. Wilma Mason, are area commanders for the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte. The programs and services they oversee include the Center of Hope and Booth Commons shelters and housing programs, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Charlotte, Christmas assistance and emergency disaster response.

Maj. Todd Mason spoke with Simone Feast from the Queens University News Service about the work the couple does.

The Salvation Army is focused on homelessness, building communities and substance abuse. How did you decide on those three issues?

It’s important to note that this has been years in the making. We always try to become involved with the city, the county, and all the agencies in town. It’s really important for the Salvation Army to have a lot of collaborative efforts, realizing that more arms linked together are better than one. And so once we began looking at the city studies and the initiatives that were coming out around five or six years ago, we then determined this could be something that maybe we could step in and help with. And our local advisory board began working on our own long-range plan. As a result of that long-range plan, we identified these three areas.

Major Todd Mason portrait sept22.jpg
Courtesy of Queens University News Service
Maj. Todd Mason, area commander of the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte.

What have the Salvation Army’s key challenges been since the pandemic?

We really had to re-envision some of the ministries and services. For example, we have an emergency homeless shelter but we could no longer continue with the normal operations. These are people experiencing homelessness, so they had nowhere else to go. So our shelter was their home address. We remained open every day, all hours of the day and because of that, we began to explore some new options and new opportunities.

What is the Booth Commons family housing center?

During the pandemic, we were seeing a lot more families come to our doors. There were really no shelters for a full family to be housed together. For example, if a family of five came to our Center of Hope, and there was a father and a mother, and a 17-year-old son and two 4-year-old twin daughters, we couldn’t very easily house them together because we were a predominantly women and children’s shelter. Roof Above houses men, and that’s another collaborative effort so we don’t duplicate services. Because there were not many opportunities or options for families to be housed together, and because of the fact that we had been using a lot of hotels during the pandemic to quarantine people when a hotel became available for sale, we decided that could be an opportunity for us to meet that city need — which is to be able to house intact families together. We ended up renting a hotel for about six months while we did our due diligence. We wanted to make sure that programmatically, structurally, and within our mission, this hotel would be a good fit. We moved in our first residents in July 2021. Six months later, we purchased the hotel with the support of the county, the city, and the state. Since then, we have been housing families together.

How are families chosen to live at Booth Commons?

This city is terrific because we have what’s called a coordinated entry point. Anyone in need, whether it’s clothing, food, or shelter, can call 211. If someone calls 211 and says, “I’m a single mother, and I really need emergency shelter for four days,” then they can look in the database and say, “Oh, the Salvation Army Center of Hope has space.” They would immediately be met by Kate, one of our caseworkers, who would then begin working with them on their short-term and long-term plans. Our goal is never to just put a Band-Aid on a problem. It’s for the individual or family to ultimately get back out into the community into affordable housing. Some of them stay with us for one night, and some of them stay with us for six months. It’s all case by case, which is why we have case workers work with that individual or family to determine their needs.

It’s important to note that when we meet people, it’s often on the worst day of their life. We meet people who are very wounded, who are hurting, most of what they own can fit into a couple of small grocery bags. And so we have to ensure that we understand that we have a great responsibility and privilege to instill hope and instill the promise for a better future.

What’s important that I haven’t asked about?

One of the best national collaborations is between the Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. We have six clubs in Mecklenburg County and two in Union County. These are primarily after-school programs for children in grades one through 12. They can pay a $5 annual membership and come to after-school programs where they’re exposed to cultural, recreational, and developmental activities, tutoring, or just fellowship with their peers.

How can Charlotte residents support the Salvation Army?

Christmas is around the corner. The Salvation Army has a huge Christmas Assistance Program where we provide for children in need, usually between 7,000 and 10,000 individual children. And we also provide for senior citizens who are shut in or locked in during Christmas. Volunteering at Christmas time is really important because whether it’s ringing bells at our local retail store for us and collecting money, or volunteering at our Angel Tree center and helping process gifts — volunteers are very helpful right now.

Our website for greater Charlotte is salvationarmycharlotte.org, and it gives you all the opportunities for giving and volunteering.

Simone Feast of Raleigh is a student in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, which provides the news service in support of local community news.

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