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Public-Private Campaign Seeks To End Charlotte Homelessness Within 5 Years

A homeless man sleeps in a bus shelter on East Trade Street during last May's Speed Street Festival uptown.
David Boraks
A man sleeps in a bus shelter on East Trade Street during the Speed Street Festival uptown in 2019.

A coalition of city, county, nonprofit and business leaders launched an effort Thursday to develop a five-year strategic plan to eradicate homelessness and expand low-income housing in Charlotte.

Dena Diorio
Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio

Organizing began a year ago for the 2025 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Strategy. The initial working group includes not only local leaders, but also someone who has experienced homelessness. The idea is to draft specific plans and identify funding by this fall, said Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio.

"We're going to be looking at prevention, better wraparound services, access to affordable housing, data, communications, and really trying to integrate all the work so we look at it from a continuum perspective — as opposed to just one segment of the continuum," Diorio said.

The group is led by Bank of America chief operations and technology officer Cathy Bessant and Atrium Health CEO Eugene Woods. Consulting firm McKinsey & Company is doing research for free.

Others involved include shelter leaders, elected officials, housing developers, and the heads of the United Way, the city housing authority Inlivian, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance and Foundation for the Carolinas.

And there's also James Lee of the Stan Greenspon Center, who has been homeless in the past.

"I applaud them trying to get folks with lived experience in the conversation, right? That's so important, because we can show the failures of the system by just telling our stories," said Lee, who lived on the street in 2018 and has since become an advocate for people experiencing homelessness.

Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners
Charlotte Center City Partners
Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners

Charlotte Center City Partners is helping to manage the project. The uptown business group has worked on past efforts, such as "Housing First," which housed more than 1,000 chronically homeless people between 2016 and 2020.

CEO Michael Smith said solving the region's housing problems requires coordinated policies and funding — not a piecemeal approach.

"Yes, our community does incredible work, yet we still have 3,200-3,300 people living on the streets or in shelters," he said. "And what if we approach this with a comprehensive systematic approach that looked at the full continuum of need?"

The effort is not the first to target homelessness in Charlotte over the past decade. But officials say this is the first that tries to consolidate all the separate initiatives underway.

“Homelessness is a human and community tragedy, and we are all impacted by it,” Bank of America's Bessant said in a press release. “Our focus will be on developing an approach that addresses the full continuum of need, and on helping to drive meaningful and lasting change. With everyone at the table, including the public, nonprofit, and private sectors, we plan to support existing work and create innovative, new approaches."

It's not clear how much a grand solution like this would cost. Diorio said federal COVID-19 relief funds will be part of it. The county is getting $215 million and the city $149 million from the American Rescue Plan that passed in March.

Officials said the goal is to write and begin carrying out the comprehensive plan by October.

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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.