Meet Three Local Organizations Serving Homeless Residents In Uptown Charlotte
Each Wednesday, three organizations gather in uptown Charlotte to assist residents experiencing homelessness.
At the corner of Phifer Avenue and North Tryon Street, Block Love Charlotte distributes dinner and supplies to city residents experiencing homelessness. Each day at 5:30 p.m., a team arrives to begin unloading a truck and set up food on two tables on the side of the street.
Block Love Charlotte was founded four years ago by Deborah Woolard, who said she was motivated by her own experience with homelessness.
“I've been in a time and place in my life where I've had a need, and I just wanted somebody to give me a hand,” Woolard said. “So I want to be that hand that I once needed.”
In January 2020, the organization registered as a nonprofit, which Woolard said allowed them to apply for grant funding.
“My budget is easily $22,000 in a two-month period,” Woolard said. “Every dime for us counts.”
Block Love Charlotte is stationed directly across from "The Wall," a low stone wall where residents experiencing homeless congregate. Woolard said proximity to residents was the primary reason for the organization’s location.
“I wanted to be able to focus where the majority of our houseless neighbors are (and) find out how I can reach more individuals,” Woolard said.
On Wednesday this week, patrons were offered chicken, macaroni and cheese, bread rolls, and green beans. Woolard emphasized the organization wants to provide a good meal to patrons, and make sure everyone who wants to eat is able to do so.
Block Love Charlotte didn’t slow down during COVID-19. Before last year, the organization distributed food and supplies three days a week. Starting in March 2020, however, Block Love Charlotte began distributing meals three times a day to anyone in the community who needed to eat. The organization also delivered groceries and prescriptions to residents who couldn’t leave their homes.
“We knew the needs didn't stop just cause we were in the midst of a pandemic,” Woolard said.
During the height of the pandemic, Block Love Charlotte served more than 200 people daily. Following the closure of the homeless encampment known as Tent City, the number has decreased, but the organization still serves about 60 to 70 people each day, Woolard said.
Panda and Trigger, as they prefer to be identified, have been experiencing homelessness since 2018. Panda said she met Woolard during the pandemic, and that Woolard has always made sure they have what they needed. Trigger echoed her sentiments.
"I wouldn't know where I would be without Block Love," Trigger said.
Donnell, another patron of Block Love Charlotte who only gave his first name, said Woolard was the "mama of the block." He also expressed appreciation for Block Love Charlotte's services.
Woolard said she appreciates how having multiple organizations in the area gives residents an option of what to eat, and organizations can serve residents at different times of the day.
“Our neighbors should have a choice,” Woolard said. “It's a good way to make sure everybody gets something.”
Across the street in a parking lot, Leah’s Hopes and Dreams distributed food and supplies to anyone who approached. The nonprofit operates Wednesdays and Saturdays beginning at 5 p.m.
Founder Shenique Carmichael grew up in the Bahamas with her mother, where she said their home lacked electricity and running water, and many days they had no food to eat. Carmichael said she started the organization in honor of her mother and because of her past experiences with poverty.
“We give back to the community not only because we want to, it’s because I know what it is to go without and because of how I was raised,” Carmichael said.
Leah’s Hopes and Dreams has been serving the streets of Charlotte for six years, outreach director Tonya Dean said. The organization also has two homes, one of which serves as a transitional facility for men experiencing homelessness.
Similar to Block Love Charlotte, Leah’s Hopes and Dreams saw an increase in activity during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization distributed supplies four times a week, and following a donation from Elevation Church, purchased a mobile shower for patrons.
“I think that when we initially started, the homeless community wasn't as prevalent as it is now,” Dean said. “Now, just between COVID and the economy, it's been something that we just know is needed. Our mission is incredibly important to us and the people we serve.”
A rising number of Charlotte residents are experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data from Mecklenburg County, there has been a 67% increase in homelessness since June 2020, when the lowest number of homeless residents in the county in the past two years was recorded. At the end of May 2021, a total of 3,390 individuals were experiencing homelessness.
Tent City, a homeless encampment that was established in uptown at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, previously provided shelter to more than 200 residents but was dispersed this February by a city abatement order.
Dean said nonprofits in the area frequently work together. In the past, they have shared resources ranging from supplies to volunteers.
Rice N Beans arrived at North Tryon Street on Wednesday as Block Love Charlotte and Leah’s Hopes and Dreams prepared to leave. From the trailer, volunteers set up tables and prepared food, bagging pastries from Panera and scooping rice and beans into containers. Off to the side, other volunteers organized piles of clothing.
Rice N Beans begins distributing food and clothing at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday and Wednesday. Founder Daryl Sutherland began the Wednesday night session with a prayer.
“He told us that if we see somebody hungry, then we’re supposed to feed them, if we see somebody that’s naked, we’re supposed to get them clothed,” Sutherland said. “If we see somebody that’s hurting, we’re supposed to love on them."
Sutherland said that while Rice N Beans is a Christian organization, it doesn't turn anyone away or pressure them to follow the religion.
“Our primary goal is to make sure that our friends out here are taken care of,” he said.
In addition to distributing food and supplies on North Tryon Street, the organization has a team that walks through the city to serve residents in other locations. The organization also assists residents with securing jobs and housing.
Woolard emphasized that ultimately, her work is about spreading love.
"We want to spread love, we want to offer hope, we want to be that lightness in the darkness," Woolard said. "I don't call people out here my clients. These are my family."