With freezing temperatures hitting the Charlotte area this week, the city's homeless shelters are bracing for a spike in demand.
Even before the cold snap, record numbers of people were seeking shelter, said Deronda Metz, director of social services for the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte.
The agency's homeless shelter for women near uptown is turning away people daily because it is full, Metz said. She said her agency has received calls from families sleeping in their cars who have nowhere to go.
The 200-bed facility, one of the largest shelters in Charlotte, temporarily halted new admissions and persuaded churches to take in homeless women earlier this year to free space.
“The scariest thing is that we don't have an immediate solution,” Metz said. “The story has been the same for about three years, but we haven't done anything to address it.”
Charlotte is chronically short of shelter beds. Homeless advocates estimate there are more than 5,000 people who are homeless in Mecklenburg on a given night, but only about 2,000 shelter beds.
Officials opened the Emergency Winter Shelter near uptown in October – a month earlier than previous years – to help homeless men escape the cold.
One night earlier this week, the shelter served more than 300 meals – the largest number ever on a non-holiday.
The average number of meals served at the shelter has jumped to 225 a night from 165 two years ago, said Tony Marciano, executive director of the Charlotte Rescue Mission, which provides for the shelter.
Social workers blame the economic downturn for the spike in homelessness. Many part-time workers recently have had their work hours reduced, they said.