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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Housing Advocates Urge Governor To House All Homeless

Bree Newsome Bass led Friday's press conference calling on the governor to house North Carolina's homeless.

Housing advocates are calling on North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to guarantee safe housing for the state's homeless population to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In a virtual press conference Friday, they launched a campaign with the hashtag #HaveAHome2StayAtHome.

"We're really asking the governor to just flex some more of the power that is uniquely within the governor's office, and that is, No. 1, to issue an executive order guaranteeing safe, stable housing in North Carolina," said Bree Newsome Bass,  an organizer with the Housing Justice Coalition in Charlotte. The press conference was organized by the group Advance Carolina

A 2019 study by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated there are more than 9,300 people living on streets in North Carolina. Many more are without permanent housing, sleeping on couches or other temporary housing. More than 3,500 of those are in Mecklenburg County. 

The housing advocates want Cooper to convene a statewide effort to work on the problem, which they note pre-dates the COVID-19 crisis. One idea is to have the governor order that public facilities like schools and convention centers be converted to temporary homeless shelters, as often happens during natural disasters. 

The group also wants Cooper to extend a halt on evictions beyond April 15, work to expand public Wi-Fi access, provide aid to college students displaced by campus closings, and ensure adequate mental health care. 

[On Friday, N.C. Chief Justice Cheri Beasley extended a freeze on court business until June 1.  That effectively stops evictions and foreclosure hearings for the time being.]

[Later Friday, Cooper addressed the homeless issue during a press conference. "Some cities have already stepped up to provide hotels and other places for our homeless population. We're working to make sure that some of the federal money that is coming down that's coming to state and local governments in North Carolina can be used for this purpose," Cooper said.]

Another problem the group is working on is making sure people living in hotels and motels -- many of whom have lost their paychecks -- aren't made homeless by evictions. 

"The COVID-19 crisis has exposed a gap in our housing services delivery system," Liana Humphrey of Crisis Assistance Ministry said on the press call. "We quickly learned that individuals living in hotels found themselves caught between the shelter system and the protections that were being provided when they temporarily halted evictions.  

Crisis Assistance Ministry is now providing temporary financial assistance to more than 1,000 families living in more than 50 motels, she said. The COVID-19 Response Fund started by the Foundation for the Carolinas and United Way of Central Carolinas recently gave the ministry $600,000 for the effort.  

Other members of the group include legal and housing activists, advocates for Latino immigrants, and mental health professionals.

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