Lingering Cold Wave Prompts Homeless Shelter Overflows, Community Debate
Updated Sunday, January 7, 2018: 3:20 p.m. - Mecklenburg County officials said today that an overflow shelter would be open Sunday night at the Tuckasegee Recreation Center, located at 4820 Tuckasegee Road.
Temperatures dropped into the single digits around Charlotte early Sunday, as a week-long cold wave hung on a bit longer. Shelters and agencies that serve homeless people have been taking extra steps to offer a warm place to spend the night. The Men's Shelter of Charlotte provided protection from the cold to an extra 63 people on Saturday night.
In weather like this, we really become about keeping people alive. - Liz Clasen-Kelly, Men's Shelter of Charlotte
Agencies such as the Salvation Army, Urban Ministry, and Crisis Assistance Ministry have also responded to the need. The bitter weather has also prompted volunteer support, and community discussion about whether local agencies and officials have done enough to help bring homeless people in from the cold.
"No one’s been turned away that’s been seeking shelter over the past week -not at Men's Shelter of Charlotte," Liz Clasen-Kelly, executive director of the shelter, said Sunday morning in an interview with WFAE's Mark Rumsey about the community's response to the frigid weather.
Clasen-Kelly added that the recent cold wave can be a learning experience for the community. "I think when all is said and done, we're gonna have a good chance to come together and reflect," she said. "What are the things we've learned during the past week - are there things we would do differently?"
Mecklenburg County’s homeless services director, Peter Safir, says there are some among the local homeless population who choose not to come to a shelter, for different reasons, such as having pets. "But some also use alcohol or drugs and don't want to go into an environment where that's not gonna be allowed," Safir said.
Still, Safir would like to see more outreach efforts to help advocates stay in touch with homeless people on a more frequent basis, to help get a better idea of their needs.
Clasen-Kelly praised the efforts of Charlotte’s Crisis Assistance Ministry to help households keep their heat on in recent days. She adds that homelessness is an issue that should be addressed not only by nonprofit agencies, but by the entire community.