A new U.S. Conference of Mayors report reveals Charlottes population of homeless families grew by 23 percent last year, one of the highest percentage increases among the 25 cities participating in the survey.
Only San Antonio and Norfolk, Va., posted higher gains, both 25 percent.
Charlotte got some good news, however. The citys overall homeless population dropped by 10 percent, based on a decrease in homeless men and women without underage children.
Coincidentally, Gastonia posted the countrys biggest percentage increase in that category: a 67 percent rise in homeless individuals.
The study predicts Charlottes population of homeless families will increase yet again in 2013. And we likely wont be ready to handle it, said Darren Ash, head of the nonprofit Charlotte Family Housing.
This does not surprise any of us on the front line. We have seen the numbers grow, said Ash. The report shows that weve been caught flat-footed and totally unprepared to deal with the rise of homeless moms with kids.
Charlottes 2012 population of homeless families consisted of 3,314 adults and children living in emergency shelters and 1,103 in transitional housing programs, the report shows.
Carson Dean, executive director of the Mens Shelter of Charlotte, noted the decline in individual homeless people coincides with improved efforts to get homeless men connected to benefits that allow them to find housing.
Last year, the shelter helped 360 men move into homes, he said. The goal this year is 400 men, he said.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developments most recent report on homelessness across the nation indicates that the problem generally remained stable during 2011.
The agencys point-in-time estimate of persons homeless on a single night shows an overall drop from 636,000 to 633,782 in a January 2011-to-January 2012 comparison, a 0.4 percent change.
Meanwhile, families experiencing homelessness increased 1.4 percent across the nation, HUD reports.
This marks at least the third year in a row that family homelessness has risen in Charlotte. In 2011, it was up 21 percent, and the year before, it rose 36 percent.
Charlotte charities that cater to homeless families say the numbers have grown to such proportions that most programs are at capacity.
Charlotte Family Housing has a waiting list of families, and the Salvation Army Center of Hope has homeless families sleeping on its floors because of lack of space.
Deronda Metz of the Center of Hope said 200 children are among the 354 people staying at the shelter. Thats up from 150 children a night the year before, she said.
Like Ash, Metz says Charlotte was simply not prepared for the numbers, and she worries that the city has become desensitized to the issue.
Were getting calls every day from a lot of families that we simply cant help, Metz said.
Charlotte wants to reduce the shelter population and put people in housing, and thats fine. But were not taking much action on it. Its like were still in the dark when it comes to homelessness.
The jump in Charlottes homeless families is credited in part to the slowdown of the citys once-powerful job market.
Struggling families were drawn to the city for jobs, many of which were low-paying, experts say. When the recession hit, those families were caught with little savings and no extended family in the community to fall back on.
They eventually lost their homes, and many ended up in shelters, experts say.