Former tent city residents face housing barriers

Former tent city residents face housing barriers

Photo: Travis Dove/Axios

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A fraction of former tent city residents have permanent homes, one day before Mecklenburg County’s hotel leases to house them expire.

What’s happening: Mecklenburg County leased two hotels to house the residents who were ordered to leave a homeless encampment along Interstate 277 this February. But that lease expires Sept. 30.

By the numbers: Of the 214 people who moved into the hotels, 38 have been placed in permanent housing, and seven are in transitional housing.

  • The county says 59 people left on their own or had to leave because of illegal activity or unsafe behavior.

The 72 remaining residents will be given the option to move to hotels through other organizations.

  • Catholic Charities has made hotel arrangements for 26 people while helping them search for permanent housing. Others will be placed in hotels managed by nonprofits Block Love Charlotte and Roof Above.

The county will reimburse those organizations for the cost of housing the individuals, says Karen Pelletier, director of housing innovation, strategy and alignment with the county’s Community Support Services.

  • She expects to have the vast majority of people from the encampment placed in housing by December.

Why it matters: Tent city became a stark visualization of the housing crisis Charlotte faces, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the problem is much larger than one encampment.

  • More than 3,100 people in the area are experiencing homelessness, according to data as of late July from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness dashboard. The people forced to leave tent city experienced homelessness for an average of 2.5 years, according to the county.
  • The city has says it lacks around 34,000 affordable housing units.

What they’re saying: The affordable housing shortage is the biggest challenge in finding people homes, Pelletier says.

  • Many of the residents they are looking to place in housing also struggle with substance abuse and mental health disorders, she tells me.
  • Prior evictions or criminal records also make finding a place to live difficult. “A Landlord is judging someone just on a piece of paper without even meeting that individual,” Pelletier says.

The other side: Some advocates are critical of the county’s pace.

Greg Jackson, founder and executive director of nonprofit Heal Charlotte, says he’s happy for the families that have found homes.

But he notes the number of people who haven’t been placed in housing suggests the program isn’t working.

  • “Those numbers are unacceptable when we’re talking about our government and our leadership doing this work,” he says.

What’s next: With the return of evictions and end of additional federal unemployment benefits, even more people could fall into homelessness.

Deborah Woolard has noticed an uptick in people coming to the dinners her organization, Block Love Charlotte, serves every evening on Phifer Avenue in Uptown.

  • Prior to the clearing of tent city, the group saw around 165 people each evening, she tells me. The night of the hotel move-in, only 15 showed up.
  • Now, she says it’s back to about 75. Some of those people, she says, were evicted from local motels recently.

To Woolard, placing even just one person into permanent housing is a success.

“To some, they may say that’s just a small number,” she says. “For me, to know that it’s 31 neighbors, not out there in the cold, not trying their best to figure out where they’re going to sleep at night … I’m celebrating.”

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