Darren Ash calls it one of Charlotte’s most shameful statistics: The city ranked second in the nation last year for its increase in family homelessness – up 36 percent, according to a national survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. It was a dubious distinction, but the startling news also acted as a catalyst for the formation of Charlotte Family Housing. It’s the city’s only transitional shelter and housing agency focused solely on providing support to Charlotte’s homeless families, says Ash, executive director of the organization. And with November being National Homeless Awareness Month, Ash hopes more people will be inspired to reach out and help address what has become a serious problem in Charlotte. Charlotte Family Housing is the result of a three-way merger that took place in July between Charlotte Emergency Housing, Family Promise of Charlotte and the Workforce Initiative for Supportive Housing – a move designed to better serve homeless families. “We needed to create a more effective and efficient way to help homeless people,” says Ash. “And staff from all three agencies worked to come up with new continuum of care.”Part of that continuum opens this month at St. John’s Baptist Church on Hawthorne Lane, where the agency is unveiling new dormitory space that will house six working families, says Jennifer Frey, a development associate for Charlotte Family Housing. St. John’s Baptist Church is one of several sheltering sites the agency oversees. Others include Plaza Place (formerly Charlotte Emergency Housing shelter) and various permanent housing facilities scattered throughout the city at apartment complexes. Suhair Hoskie, 36, and her two daughters lived at Plaza Place for six months after her landlord decided suddenly in 2007 to sell the house she was renting. It was a scary time for her and her daughters, Hoskie says, but during her stay at the shelter she took advantage of financial literacy and budgeting workshops, and eventually saved up enough to move out of the shelter and rent a townhouse. And this past March, she was able to buy a house. “The program definitely helped me get back on my feet and give my daughters a stable place to live,” she says. Through its sheltering sites and apartment complexes, Charlotte Family Housing will serve about 200 families this year, including nearly 400 children. An estimated 4,400 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students have been identified as homeless at some point this past school year. This number has increased by 20 percent every year for the past five years.But the organization is about more than just providing a place for families to stay. “Our goal is to move families to self-sufficiency and break the cycle of homelessness,” says Frey. Charlotte Family Housing provides not only transitional shelter and affordable housing, but it also helps families acquire the tools to become empowered and self-reliant. “There are many reasons why a family might be homeless,” says Ash. “And we work on removing the barriers that are preventing them from getting back into permanent housing.” Families can receive vocational counseling, parenting skills and financial literacy, Ash says. “The only way to break the cycle of homelessness is through deep social work and creating a long-term support system.” Most families will participate in the program for three to five years, Frey says. In order to ensure a continuity of care, the agency is collaborating with community partners such as Goodwill and Crisis Assistance Ministry. Charlotte Family Housing is also organizing “hope teams,” who are volunteers that make a commitment to work with individual families on a long-term basis in order to break the cycle of generational poverty and help families sustain success. “If we’re going to break the cycle of homelessness we have to go deeper than just providing a place to live,” says Ash. “This long-term commitment and engagement is crucial.”
More info:Charlotte Family Housing: www.charlottefamilyhousing.org.