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Charlotte Area

Survey reveals much larger population of 'chronically homeless'

Advocates have long estimated about 500 chronically homeless people live in Charlotte's shelters and on the street. A comprehensive study completed this week found that estimate far short of reality. Advocates are now calling for immediate action. Volunteers spent three days interviewing everyone they could find in Charlotte who had been homeless for at least a year or off and on over time. They found more than 800 - far more than the 500 advocates had expected. "I'm stunned, I had no idea we had that many," says Kathy Izard of the Urban Ministry Center, which conducted the survey. The Charlotte Housing Authority put up $10,000 to fund it. The intent was to create a vulnerability index of Charlotte's homeless population: Who is most likely to die on the streets, based on a series of risk factors such as age or chronic health problems. In the process, Kathy Izard happened to interview a man who had been homeless longer than any other person in the survey: 35 years. "I haven't been able to forget him all week," says Izard. "He's ready to die. He's exhausted. He's tired of trying to live this way. And his story broke my heart, so I hope for him and others like him, I hope we do move faster." Izard says the results of the survey break the homeless problem down into manageable chunks. For example, 109 of the respondents are veterans for whom special government assistance is already available. Charlotte Housing Authority Board President Joel Ford says there may be an immediate solution to housing for those people. "Right now we have 30 unused vouchers for veterans that we can take this information that we gathered here today - and connect them with our system to get a roof over their head very, very soon, if not within days," says Ford. Special government assistance already exists for many of the homeless veterans and seniors in the vulnerability index. But assistance for people with health and substance abuse issues is scarcer, and Ford says the housing authority doesn't have enough low-income vouchers to meet all of the needs. Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx is now organizing a committee to look at all of the community's affordable housing resources and recommend priorities. The results of Charlotte's new vulnerability index for the chronically homeless give them a starting point.