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For two years, WFAE has reported on the Charlotte area's affordable housing crisis through our Finding Home series. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, since 1990, home values have increased 36%, while median household income has gone up only 4%. The appearance of prosperity with new development masks the fact that people are being priced out of their neighborhoods.

Finding Home: Helping Homeless Students By Supporting Their Families

Da'Monique Leggett is getting housing help and career training through a new program that tries to improve outcomes for students by supporting their families.
David Boraks
Da'Monique Leggett is getting housing help and career training through a new program that tries to improve outcomes for students by supporting their families.

Here's a No. 1 ranking you don't want: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leads North Carolina with the largest population of homeless students — more than 4,700 last year. A new program by two Charlotte agencies aims to help some of those students by getting their families into stable housing and higher-paying jobs.

Finding Home

Improving child and family stability was one of three main recommendations in the 2017 report of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force.  The report says "stress can be overwhelming for the entire family and have lasting impacts … on the lives and outcomes of children." 

You don't have to tell that to Da'Monique Leggett and her 12-year-old daughter, Erica. Since they moved to Charlotte from Cleveland four years ago, they've been in and out of homelessness, even though Da'Monique hasn't had trouble finding work. She's worked in housekeeping, at Dunkin Donuts, and at Spectrum Center for a while.  

“I just took whatever job I could get, pretty much, to make ends meet," she said. "At one point in time, I had three jobs. And it still wasn't enough."

She eventually got a job as a hairdresser, and she and her daughter found an old but affordable apartment in north Charlotte.  That lasted about a year, until the salon where she worked was sold, and all the staff got laid off. Without that job, she couldn't afford the $750-a-month rent and broke her lease.

“I stayed with a relative for a little bit," Da'Monique said. "And then it kind of became a little bit overwhelming for the relative, so I chose to go elsewhere.”

New Job, Same Housing Trouble

Then, things took a turn for the better. Da'Monique found a job with a big lawn care company earning $15 an hour plus commission. But housing remained a struggle. She could afford an apartment, but not the security deposit and up-front rent. So she and Erica were stuck in a weekly-rate hotel in northeast Charlotte, paying $380 a week.  

Many local homelessness programs are aimed at those on the street, but not those who have temporary and unstable housing. About 15% of those homeless students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are living in hotels or motels. 

Floyd Davis
Credit Community Link
Floyd Davis

“These are people who are working every day," said Floyd Davis, CEO of the nonprofit housing group Community Link. "Fortunately, they were able to have a place to sleep last night."

But they don’t qualify for some help that’s available.

“These are people who cannot access the federal funds to assist them in dealing with homelessness,” Davis said.

So Community Link has joined forces this year with another nonprofit, A Child's Place, to start a program called Family & Child Stability Services.  It stepped in this summer to help Da'Monique, with housing and career training — so she can eventually earn more. 

Working With CMS

Families recommended for the program are identified through Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Da'Monique's daughter, Erica, is already in a federally mandated CMS program that provides transportation so she can stay at the same middle school (James Martin), even as they've moved around the city at the edge of homelessness. This new program offers ongoing support to families of elementary and middle schoolers, said Kimberly Caldwell, program manager with A Child’s Place.  

“There is a representative from A Child's Place as well as someone from Community Link who are providing case management to the student, whether that's during the school day, as well as working in the home with the parent on any type of goals, whether it's educational employment goals, or anything that's needed to help them sustain in their new housing,” Caldwell said.

The family stability program helped Da'Monique find and pay for a new apartment. It pays 70% of the $850-a-month rent until her income grows. It also helped her get into a six-month financial technology training program that she hopes will lead to an IT job at one of the city's big banks. 

“Fortunately, I'm able to take this opportunity because they are assisting me with my housing and utility costs," she said. "So I have this time to be able to do that.” 

Helping One Family At A Time

Private donations and a $100,000 grant from Mecklenburg County are paying for the program this year.  Floyd Davis of Community Link said that's enough to help 35 families for a year or more. But with more than 4,000 CMS students in the same situation, he admits that's a drop in the bucket.  

“We can't solve the problem of homelessness for everybody, because we don't have the resources,” Davis said. “It will take a tremendous amount of resources to really address the problem of homelessness in our community. So we celebrate if we can solve it for this family and this family — one family at a time.”

And for families like the Leggetts, having a bit of financial security and a permanent roof over their heads makes all the difference, Da’Monique said.

“To just have a place, so yeah, they definitely helped me out. And definitely put me in a better situation to get on my feet,” she said.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.