Is Housing First the way to end homelessness in Charlotte?

Today, Housing First Charlotte-Mecklenburg is holding a celebration at 10 a.m. to announce the expansion of Moore Place from 85 apartments to 120. Moore Place is a housing complex at 2435 Lucena St. for people who have been homeless. Liz Clasen-Kelly, associate executive director of policy and outreach at the Urban Ministry Center, said that a nurse, psychiatrist and six social workers are on site at Moore Place, which is part of a new approach to end homelessness.

Photo 2 Credit Housing First Charlotte Mecklenburg

Clasen-Kelly explained how Charlotte community leaders have been talking about how to end homelessness for the past decade. In 2014, Center City Partners took action by convening 27 key organizations with interests in ending homelessness in Charlotte. The group formed Housing First Charlotte-Mecklenburg and adopted the national model, Housing First.

The Housing First philosophy states that a person needs both ‘housing + supports’ to be successful. Through this model, individuals are given housing while receiving the help they need with addictions, mental health and other issues. This approach is radically different from an older model called “housing readiness” when a person had to be clean and sober before being considered for housing.

Housing First Charlotte-Mecklenburg set a goal of obliterating chronic homelessness in the Queen City by Dec. 31, 2016. Currently, there are approximately 450 chronically homeless people on record. By definition, a chronically homeless person has a disabling condition, and has been homeless one year or more or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.

Photo 3 Credit CMPD

Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department is one of the organizations that has taken part in these new changes. They have adjusted the way they work with the homeless. Captain Mike Campagna is the commander of Central Patrol Division. He works closely with his officers to change the way they approach situations.

He said, “We started going out to camps for outreach. It could take a year to build a relationship, just saying, ‘hello.’”

CMPD collaborates with the Urban Ministry Center to bring service providers, counselors and medical professionals to these homeless camps. An officer’s first response is to connect an individual to resources rather than hauling them off to jail for activities like trespassing, public urination, panhandling and drunk and disorderly conduct.

“We recognize that living on the streets is a challenge,” Captain Campagna said.

An officer’s main objective when working with someone living on the streets is to connect them to the right resource or organization. It means CMPD officers are taking the time to build trust in the homeless community and ask the right questions.

Photo 4 Credit Housing First Charlotte Mecklenburg

Often, a homeless person is entitled to funds through their social security, disability or pension. Sometimes they have lost touch with family who are able to help or they need help applying for services.

Campagna said, “It is my goal to expose officers to a more compassionate approach to policing and see the benefits of understanding the underlying issues behind a problem and looking for ways to address it, which oftentimes includes making connections with the large number of resources that are out there.”

Photo 5 Credit Housing First Charlotte Mecklenburg

Do good:

(1) Educate, advocate and communicate

Learn about the issues related to homelessness, find ways to help get the homeless population’s voice heard and write to local and state-level representatives about needs and issues.

(2) Complete a referral form

If you see someone who appears to be homeless, Housing First Charlotte-Mecklenburg has an online form you can fill out. An outreach team will try to make contact with the person.

(3) Volunteer

Become a mentor, help on a move-in team or contribute to the welcome-home kits.

(4) Donate

Even a small donation can have an impact.

Photos: Credit Housing First Mecklenburg County, CMPD