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Charlotte Area

Homeless housing project advances

An effort to build permanent housing for Charlotte's chronically homeless population took a major step forward this week with a unanimous vote from Mecklenburg County Commissioners. The County Commission agreed to request $1.3 million request from the federal government to help run a new apartment complex for chronically homeless people. The vote was unanimous, in part, because of a financial argument made by Urban Ministry Director Dale Mullinex. He reported on a recent survey of 13 local homeless people. "These 13 chronically homeless individuals over a 3 years period cost this community $1.4 million - those are simply times in jail and times at CMC hospital," says Mullinex. That breaks down to 36-thousand dollars a year. By contrast, Mullinex says the Urban Ministry has for nine-months been providing supportive, permanent housing to 13 chronically homeless individuals at a cost of just under 11,000 dollar a years. "There have been no arrests for trespassing, loitering, public urination or intoxication for any of our folks for the nine months we've been in this program," says Mullinex. The Urban Ministry now hopes to expand the project with a 100-unit apartment complex for chronically homeless people. It will cost $6 million to build, and the Urban Ministry hopes to start construction in September. Project manager Kathy Izard says it's modeled on successes in Denver, Seattle and Salt Lake City. "It would have 85 efficiency apartments that are each 365 square feet," says Izard. "And then we would have community spaces - education rooms, library, tv, art, yoga space." Only single adults will live in the building and some will be expected to pay a small amount of rent. As long as they adhere to a code-of-conduct, Izard says they'll be welcome to stay permanently. "This is for chronically homeless individuals," says Izard. "You have to have been homeless for at least a year, or 3 times in 4 years. You also will have to have some type of disability - whether it's mental, physical, HIV-positive, substance abuse." The concept of providing permanent housing to homeless people first - and then helping them overcome addiction or other issues - is a key part of the county's 10-year plan to end homelessness. But it has met with some resistance from local leaders worried that it rewards people who have not made an effort to improve their lives. Commissioner Bill James also questioned whether the county was getting in too deep. "Are we creating a new program at a time of austerity that in two years we may have to write a check for a half million for?" The Urban Ministry's answer to that was "not necessarily." It depends on how much private donors and the federal government pitch in.