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More Beds But More Demand, Say Experts At Mecklenburg County Homeless Town Hall

homeless camp.jfif
David Boraks
The homeless camp at 12th and College back in August 2020. A survey of the camp on Jan. 15 found 84 people living there.

Updated 12:50 p.m. Jan. 25.

At a town hall meeting on homelessness Thursday night, Mecklenburg County put the homeless population at more than 3,000. That doesn’t include those living in hotels or with other people.

The town hall gave residents a snapshot of the county’s homeless population and what’s being done to help.

Mecklenburg County Community Support Services Business Manager Karen Pelletier says 84 people were counted at the homeless camp known as "tent city" north of uptown Charlotte on Jan. 15. Since then, 47 of them have moved to an emergency shelter.

Pelletier says 237 shelter beds have been added this year to keep up with demand.

“This net increase is the result of the county extending leases on hotel rooms, the reopening of Roof Above’s Statesville Avenue shelter and Salvation Army’s Center of Hope utilizing Roof Above’s newly purchased hotel as a winter shelter,” said Pelletier.

The United Way’s helpline fielded more than 1,600 calls in the last quarter of 2020 from people who lost their homes or were at risk of losing their home, Pelletier said. Mecklenburg County says the helpline received 1,800 calls during the same time period in 2019, but the eviction moratorium has likely played a role in fewer calls this year. The county anticipates more calls for help once the moratorium is lifted.

Roof Above added 100 beds since last winter, said CEO Liz Clasen-Kelly. That’s led to some nights with empty beds instead of what used to be a lottery system to get into a shelter. Even with shelter beds available, Clasen-Kelly said there will always be people who won’t seek it. Mental health issues, addiction and a fear of COVID-19 are just a few reasons why, she said, many choose to stay on the street.

“That has always been the case; there have always been people who don’t want to access shelter,” Clasen-Kelly said.

Participants in the town hall such as Salvation Army Director of Social Services Deronda Metz stressed the need for affordable permanent housing.

“And there are days like this past week, and we have been full and maybe one or two people came in,” said Metz. “But our greatest challenge is outflow, housing.”

Mecklenburg County’s latest report on homelessness found there’s a need for an estimated 44,572 rental units for those who make less than $39,500 for a family of four. It also found evections rose by 12% in 2019, the third straight year of increase.

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