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Salvation Army shelter nears $1.4 million goal to add beds

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Diedra Laird - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
People sleep on the floor in the dining area at the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope on a cold night this winter. Just about every room was utilized as sleeping space, and putting families on cots in hallways or mats on the floor of the cafeteria has become routine. The center is fundraising for a 64-bed expansion.

A once unpopular proposal to expand the city’s 250-bed shelter for homeless women and children is quickly gaining community support and financial backing.

In the past two months, the Salvation Army has raised more than $950,000 toward its $1.4 million goal to renovate third-floor storage space at the Center of Hope to hold 64 more beds.

An additional $100,000 is pledged by the Leon Levine Foundation once the campaign reaches the $1.1 million mark, officials said.

Salvation Army leaders credit the momentum to the Charlotte City Council, which voted in April to give $500,000 to the expansion. United Way also recently announced it was giving $30,000, while other money has come from private and anonymous donors.

Salvation Army officials are hoping to complete the expansion before winter, when cold temperatures become deadly for the homeless.

“We’re looking at starting work at the end of August and being open the first week of November,” said Maj. Bobby Lancaster, head of the city’s Salvation Army command.

“This is something that could not have done without the city moving on it. Could someone else have heard our cry for help and responded? Yes, it’s possible. But the city has been our salvation.”

Projects of any kind to expand shelters have been considered taboo in recent years since the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandated that charities focus federal aid to get people out of shelters and into rehousing programs.

Thirty days or less was the recommended limited for staying in emergency shelters, federal officials said.

However, Charlotte’s 57 percent increase in family homelessness over five years created lengthy waiting lists for rehousing programs, leaving women and children without a place to stay.

Also problematic: Homeless parents needed to be staying in the shelter in order to register for housing programs.

The 250-bed Center of Hope, Charlotte’s largest shelter for homeless women and children, currently has 350 people in the building and 30 additional single women staying in space supplied by Victory Christian Center.

Putting families on cots in hallways or mats on the floor of the cafeteria at night has become routine.

Shelter leaders say they’re turning away an average of six households a day due to lack of floor space.

“We have women and children in this community with no place to go,” said Marty Sanders, director of development for the Salvation Army. “The fact that this is moving so swiftly speaks to people’s understanding of the need.”

The Leon Levine Foundation not only pledged help the campaign meet its goal, but it also gave $100,000 to the Center of Hope’s two housing programs, SHIP and Rapid Rehousing. The two programs have moved more than 300 homeless people out of the shelter and into housing in recent years.

Tom Lawrence of the Levine Foundation said the organization took a hard look at issues facing Charlotte’s homeless families and determined the 64-bed expansion was the most cost-effective solution to the immediate crisis.

Lancaster said the Salvation Army had run into opposition in the past on proposals to build an addition onto its current building just outside of uptown on Spratt Street.

However, the project is not considered an addition. Instead, it is seen as a way to replace 50 beds lost last year when a satellite shelter closed at Caldwell Presbyterian Church near uptown. Lack of funding was one reason for the closure, officials said.

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