Charlottes new 120-bed Doves Nest center on West Boulevard quietly opened its doors last week, increasing by tenfold the number of beds available for homeless women fighting addictions.
The $11.2 million project also breaks ground in the state by reserving 30 of those beds for children ages 5 to 11, so the citys growing number of homeless families wont have to be split during a mothers treatment.
Families have been the fastest-growing segment of the citys homeless population for the past two years. And drug tests show 70 percent of women making repeat visits to area shelters are drug abusers, officials said.
The program takes in homeless women and women on the verge of being kicked out of their homes by frustrated family members or landlords.
This is about addressing one of the root causes of homelessness, said Tony Marciano, head of the Charlotte Rescue Mission, which operates the Doves Nest. If you are in addiction, you cant hold down a job. You cant even get a job if you test positive for a substance.
The centers opening went unpublicized because its construction campaign is still $1.2 million shy of its $11.2 million goal. Marciano intends to raise that money before a grand opening in September.
The first dozen women have already moved in, leaving behind a 3,500-square-foot home on Euclid Avenue that served as the Doves Nest since its opening 1992. Its up for sale.
The new building is 45,500 square feet.
Oh, my gosh, this place is so big, I could knit a sweater walking down the hall, said resident Phyllis Lauver, 51, as she prepared to put up her new shower curtain.
At the old house, we were like a bunch of stuffed lobsters trying to move around each other in a pot.
Linda Currie is program director for the Doves Nest, and even she admits to be being speechless at the sight of the new buildings stone-columned entrance, high ceilings and rose garden.
At least one of the residents has gotten lost in the building, Currie said, but none are complaining.
When we first brought the women over, there were a lot of tears. Many of them dont believe theyre worth all this, or that people would care this much, Currie said. Its even more incredible when you realize how the community made this happen, even with the recession.
Recession delays the project
Marciano admits the recession has had an impact.
As the Charlotte Rescue Mission unveiled its campaign in 2009, the economy was in nosedive, with local corporations and donors bracing for the worst, he said.
News that Charlotte-based Wachovia had been bought by California-based Wells Fargo further rattled the communitys confidence.
The campaign stalled for six months.
I met with a community leader who told me that what I was doing was wrong and that I needed to shut down the campaign, Marciano recalled.
The economy was in a free-fall then. Every day, the stock market was falling, and nobody knew where the bottom was. We didnt know if it was a recession or the collapse of the economic market.
Whatever it was, Marciano refused to stop the campaign, believing the alternative was to let addicted, homeless women die in the streets.
The Leon Levine Foundation came to the projects rescue, sending a message to the community when it agreed to increase its initial donation from $100,000 to $500,000.
The Wells Fargo Foundation gave $700,000, and Bank of America pitched a combined $400,000 to the Doves Nest and the nearby 80-bed battered womens shelter, set to open in December at a cost of $10.6 million.
Marciano said $100,000 was saved by the two charities agreeing to share the land and site preparation costs.
I think this building symbolizes the great heart of this community, Marciano said. The whole campaign has been amazing, including an individual who pledged $1.5 million and prefers to remain anonymous. She never even asked for naming rights.
Adding children to the mix will make the Doves Nest a one-of-a-kind program in the state, he said.
In the past 20 years, 70 percent of the women who entered the program, about 500, went on to graduate, and 75 percent of those graduates were still clean and sober a year later, Marciano said.
Another chance at a normal life
The downside of success is a three-month wait to enroll. However, Marciano said thats going to be a thing of the past as soon as the new site is running at capacity. He expects that will take 18 to 20 months, including the hiring of additional staff.
Among those who are grateful for the chance to be there is Kacie Cox, 22, a single mother who claims to have been addicted since age 12.
She lost custody of her 2-year-old son, Logan, after a DUI arrest and spending 21 days in jail. Now, she says, shes willing to do whatever it takes to set things right.
Shes been sober for five months, and the Doves Nest has helped her get visitation rights, which she sees as a step in the right direction.
Cox is starting to dream again about things drug addicts dont dream about like a job, a home and a future.
I can picture in my head that one day, Im going to walk my son to the school bus, with his little lunch box, she said. And hell look back at me and wave, and my life will be normal again.