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More women in need of shelter

A recent ceremony for women who finished a job-training course at the Salvation Army homeless shelter packed all the emotion of a college commencement, filled with hugs, tears and singing.

The women spoke of renewed hope for finding jobs and housing.

But the celebration obscured a grim fact: The number of women living in Mecklenburg County homeless shelters is rising.

“I've never seen so many women come here” looking for shelter beds, said Julie Putnam, coordinator for Room in the Inn, one of Charlotte's largest outreach programs for the homeless.

Social workers later this month will conduct the county's bi-annual, one-day homeless census. Cities and counties across the nation perform surveys to assess the extent of the problem.

But with the recent economic downturn, many already fear they will find more women and children relying on shelters and other transitional housing.

“We are looking at the unemployment figures and holding our breath,” said Steve Berg, vice president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington. “Unemployment is up for the (sixth) month in a row. That tends to impact women with children more.”

Families can't afford to help

Charlotte has spent at least $45 million since 2002 to build affordable housing, but the number of homeless people is growing, social workers say.

On a given night, they estimate at least 5,000 people are homeless in Mecklenburg County. The last one-day homeless count in January showed a 14 percent increase over the previous January.

Increasingly, shelter beds are occupied by women. Last week, 50 homeless women moved into the Emergency Winter Shelter just north of uptown. The shelter is usually reserved for men and closed during warm-weather months, but Charlotte's largest women's shelter is full.

From December to March, about 100 congregations set up makeshift shelters in their churches. This winter, women occupied 40 percent of the beds, compared with 26 percent the year before.

At times, there were so many women “we didn't have beds for the senior citizens,” said Putnam, the coordinator.

Social workers said they could not explain the jump, but many suspect a slowdown in Charlotte's economy.

With food and gas prices rising, some women who had stayed with relatives or friends are coming to shelters, said Deronda Metz, director of social services for the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte.

“Families can't afford to take care of each other,” Metz said.

A shortage of beds

Social workers say there are not enough shelter beds, though two new homeless shelters for women are preparing to open later this year. Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and its Friendship Community Development Corp. are planning a 26-bed shelter for homeless single women on Beatties Ford Road in northwest Charlotte. And Hope House Foundation plans to house 12 women and 14 children on Northcross Drive in Huntersville starting this fall.

Salvation Army shelter near uptown – the largest women's facility in Charlotte – has limited admissions to Mecklenburg County residents during periods of extreme crowding. Officials also have given priority to women with children.

Sheri Mayfield, 47, celebrated her oldest daughter's high school graduation there recently. She and her two daughters have lived in the shelter since November, when she was evicted from public housing for repeated late rent payments.

A former school teacher, Mayfield said she had to quit when fibromyalgia, depression, diabetes and high blood pressure made it too hard to work. She has applied for federal disability benefits but has been turned down twice.

“I try to make the best of it, but I really want out of here,” she said.

At the ceremony for the Salvation Army job-training class, Quianna Hinton received a certificate. She had lived in a house with her five children in Baltimore, but once she moved to Charlotte an apartment lease fell through and she couldn't find work. “My heart sank,” she said. “I was crying.”

But the job-training class, she said, helped restore her confidence and gave her hope. She said her job search is frustrating, but after applying for jobs over the Internet, Hinton employs another strategy.

“I just pray.”

A recent ceremony for women who finished a job-training course at the Salvation Army homeless shelter packed all the emotion of a college commencement, filled with hugs, tears and singing.

The women spoke of renewed hope for finding jobs and housing.

But the celebration obscured a grim fact: The number of women living in Mecklenburg County homeless shelters is rising.

“I've never seen so many women come here” looking for shelter beds, said Julie Putnam, coordinator for Room in the Inn, one of Charlotte's largest outreach programs for the homeless.

Social workers later this month will conduct the county's bi-annual, one-day homeless census. Cities and counties across the nation perform surveys to assess the extent of the problem.

But with the recent economic downturn, many already fear they will find more women and children relying on shelters and other transitional housing.

“We are looking at the unemployment figures and holding our breath,” said Steve Berg, vice president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington. “Unemployment is up for the (sixth) month in a row. That tends to impact women with children more.”

Families can't afford to help

Charlotte has spent at least $45 million since 2002 to build affordable housing, but the number of homeless people is growing, social workers say.

On a given night, they estimate at least 5,000 people are homeless in Mecklenburg County. The last one-day homeless count in January showed a 14 percent increase over the previous January.

Increasingly, shelter beds are occupied by women. Last week, 50 homeless women moved into the Emergency Winter Shelter just north of uptown. The shelter is usually reserved for men and closed during warm-weather months, but Charlotte's largest women's shelter is full.

From December to March, about 100 congregations set up makeshift shelters in their churches. This winter, women occupied 40 percent of the beds, compared with 26 percent the year before.

At times, there were so many women “we didn't have beds for the senior citizens,” said Putnam, the coordinator.

Social workers said they could not explain the jump, but many suspect a slowdown in Charlotte's economy.

With food and gas prices rising, some women who had stayed with relatives or friends are coming to shelters, said Deronda Metz, director of social services for the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte.

“Families can't afford to take care of each other,” Metz said.

A shortage of beds

Social workers say there are not enough shelter beds, though two new homeless shelters for women are preparing to open later this year. Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and its Friendship Community Development Corp. are planning a 26-bed shelter for homeless single women on Beatties Ford Road in northwest Charlotte. And Hope House Foundation plans to house 12 women and 14 children on Northcross Drive in Huntersville starting this fall.

Salvation Army shelter near uptown – the largest women's facility in Charlotte – has limited admissions to Mecklenburg County residents during periods of extreme crowding. Officials also have given priority to women with children.

Sheri Mayfield, 47, celebrated her oldest daughter's high school graduation there recently. She and her two daughters have lived in the shelter since November, when she was evicted from public housing for repeated late rent payments.

A former school teacher, Mayfield said she had to quit when fibromyalgia, depression, diabetes and high blood pressure made it too hard to work. She has applied for federal disability benefits but has been turned down twice.

“I try to make the best of it, but I really want out of here,” she said.

At the ceremony for the Salvation Army job-training class, Quianna Hinton received a certificate. She had lived in a house with her five children in Baltimore, but once she moved to Charlotte an apartment lease fell through and she couldn't find work. “My heart sank,” she said. “I was crying.”

But the job-training class, she said, helped restore her confidence and gave her hope. She said her job search is frustrating, but after applying for jobs over the Internet, Hinton employs another strategy.

“I just pray.”

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