The ongoing debate over whether Charlotte is hiding or helping its homeless during the Democratic National Convention has glossed over two eye-popping numbers: 36 and 21.
In 2010 family homelessness in Charlotte soared 36 percent. An aberration? No. In 2011, family homelessness in Charlotte shot up an additional 21 percent. In other words, Charlotte has two-thirds more homeless families today than it did two years ago.
Those figures from the U.S. Conference of Mayors depict the cold reality of what this moribund economy has meant for families teetering on the edge, just getting by. And they – not dicing the semantics of “hiding” versus “helping” – should be the community’s focus.
A large number of those families live in minimalist extended-stay motels with (relatively) affordable rates. Some of those motels, not surprisingly, are raising their prices for the DNC. Ricky Patel, for instance, says the Sunset Inn he manages off I-85 in north Charlotte will charge $250 a night, up from its normal rate of $35 to $40 a night. He said others are doing the same.
Those prices will drive families into the streets. So organizations that care for the homeless went into action.
A coalition of agencies announced Monday that they have crafted a three-part plan. They raised $20,000 to help keep people in the motels. They will create additional temporary shelter space at the Salvation Army. And 36 congregations have agreed to provide more than 700 beds over eight nights through the Room in the Inn program. Advocates have projected a need of up to 150 beds per night but emphasize they really don’t know what to expect.
That’s not hiding folks, it’s helping them. (In Denver in 2008, there were reports of organizers giving free tickets to museums and movie theaters to the street homeless. That’s hiding.)
Congratulations and thank you to the individuals and agencies that make up the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Homeless Services Network for meeting this need, and to the houses of worship that are living their faith. Their efforts will bring some minimal stability to families, a service that’s especially valuable as children go back to school and try to get off to a good start.
It’s ironic that a convention at which Democrats will trumpet their concern for the less fortunate will actually displace some of them. It’s to be expected, though, with an event this large. So the homeless advocates’ Band-Aid is vital.
Alas, it is just that – a Band-Aid. After the Democrats pack up and hit the campaign trail, 3,000 or more homeless adults and children will still be here. Both of the city’s primary shelters are often over capacity, and nonprofits such as Crisis Assistance Ministry are working overtime to keep people in their homes.
It’s tragic that Charlotte – a can-do city, as landing the DNC attests – can’t-do on homelessness. More than four years after Charlotte and Mecklenburg governments endorsed a 10-year plan to end homelessness, the community has made little progress in implementing a comprehensive strategy to truly fix the problem.
If there’s any hiding going on, it’s Charlotte leaders ducking a long-term problem that other cities have tackled head on.