Proof of Charlotte's worsening economy stretched the length of a football field Thursday, as record numbers of people sought help at Crisis Assistance Ministry near uptown.
The rambling line of 256 people marked one of the busiest days ever for the 33-year-old ministry, which provides the poor with emergency help to pay their rent and utility bills. That's about 100 more people than typically stand in line each morning.
Of the 256, only 90 could be helped. The rest were told to come back today and try again, noted Carol Hardison, executive director of the charity.
“The lines are progressively getting bigger every day,” said Hardison, adding that the stories her staff hears are heartbreaking. “There is no one explanation for this. The reasons are everything you are seeing in the headlines: Record jobless rates, gas prices, a higher cost of living, and higher health insurance. All those things have manifested themselves into real people who have run out of money.”
Crisis Assistance estimates it has seen a 40 percent increase in people who line up outside the agency each morning. For August, the most recent statistics available, 628 people in line were turned away.
The agency takes a triage approach to deciding who gets helped first, with immediate attention going to those who have either been evicted or had their utilities turned off. Attention is next paid to those who face that threat within a day. Those who remain are typically told to come back when their need becomes more imminent.
Four of the 256 in line on Thursday had been evicted on Wednesday, including some who carried suitcases, said Hardison. Of the others, 45 had already had their electricity turned off, and another 38 faced that threat by the end of Thursday. Many who remained wanted money to get their heat turned back on, now that temperatures are falling into the 40s at night, Hardison said.
The upward trend at her doorstep is expected to continue as the weather and economy worsen. In August, the state's jobless rate was 6.9 percent, up from 4.7 percent a year ago. That increase was driven by factory closings, retail layoffs and other actions by companies hurt by the weakened economy.
“All the things we read about happening nationally (on Wall Street) just hit a couple of weeks ago, and there is a delayed impact,” says Hardison. “People don't lose their jobs and find themselves unable to pay their bills the next day. It takes months.”