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Homelessness Drives Some To Live In Cars. Charlotte Dealership Gives Them A Place To Sleep.

Kiplin Automotive Group

A Charlotte car dealership is offering a place for people living in cars to stay the night while they look for permanent housing.

Kiplin Automotive Group on Brookshire Boulevard has unused space in a well-lit lot that manager James Charles says can be a safe alternative for folks in a pinch.

“We want to make a difference, and we have the space to do that, and we want to be part of the solution,” Charles said.

He wants people to know the dealership isn’t a place to permanently camp out in cars – it’s a solution for people who need a spot for a few nights. He’ll also try to connect them with agencies that can help them find permanent housing.

“It allows them an opportunity to have some peace of mind at night while they’re going through their transition and we want to be able to personally encourage people through that transition,” Charles said.

Charles says the idea was inspired by a situation about six years ago with a customer who was late on car payments. The staff member sent to repossess the car discovered the customer was living in it. Charles said dealership staff tried to find her a spot in a shelter, but the shelters were full.

“We put her into a hotel until we could find a place that would take her in,” Charles said.

At the end of last month, there were about 3,500 people experiencing homelessness in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area, according to Mecklenburg County. And during a one-night count from last January, the county found 20 “unsheltered” people sleeping in their cars. Others were living on the streets, in camps or in abandoned buildings, among other places.

But the annual count – called Point In Time – is only a snapshot.

Mecklenburg County’s most recent report on housing and homelessness, from fall 2019, showed the number of cost-burdened households rising, and a 12% increase in evictions over the previous one-year period. Of the roughly 118,000 homes spending at least 30% of their income on housing expenses, 67% are rentals.

It’s a frantic struggle Charles has experienced firsthand.

In 2016, the house he was renting with his wife, kids and dog was sold, and the family had to quickly find a new place to live. On top of that, he was given an eviction notice, which he says made things even harder.

It took three months for the family to move into a new home – and Charles says he had to pay a $3,000 deposit first. During those 90 days, the family moved from hotel to hotel.

“Some nights, it was literally 11 o’clock or 12 o’clock at night we were finding a place where we could stay,” Charles said.

He knows his family isn’t the only one in Charlotte to have been faced with sudden housing instability.

Two people have used the lot in the past to sleep in their cars, but Kiplin decided to make the offer public on Jan. 23. He wants people to call the dealership at 704-201-7601 to check in if they need the service.