Work has begun on a three-month project that aims to help end the days of women and children sleeping on the floor of Charlotte’s Salvation Army emergency shelter.
Crews expect to finish a 64-bed expansion of the Center of Hope by mid-June, bringing the shelter’s capacity to 340 beds. That will make it among the largest family shelters in the Carolinas.
The $1.4 million project is intended to ease crowding that has resulted in dozens of women and children sleeping nightly on the floor for a decade, officials said. Money for the work has been donated, including cash from the city, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and the Leon Levine Foundation.
A recent count of the city’s homeless population revealed that the Center of Hope is still seeing record crowds, even in the post-recession period. This year, the shelter had 401 people on the night of the count, compared with 337 in 2014. The 401 included 97 families and 212 children. The remainder were single women, officials said.
Expanding the shelter has been a goal of Salvation Army commander Maj. Bobby Lancaster, who will retire June 18 as head of the nonprofit.
Lancaster said the biggest challenge was resistance from city and county governments, which feared expanding the shelter would mean more people staying longer.
“I think there was a feeling that, if you build it, they will come, including people from out of town and people from out of state,” Lancaster said.
“What we had to make clear to them is that we’re trying to get people out of homelessness. We just need space for them to stay while we’re doing that job.”
One compromise was a decision by the agency to add the extra beds by renovating its attic, rather than building an entirely new dorm adjacent to the existing shelter on Spratt Street northeast of uptown.
The Salvation Army has multiple programs that rehouse parents who are willing to go back to college or get job training. It is also helping veterans and people with disabilities apply for benefits that cover housing expenses, allowing them to move from the shelter.
To qualify for those programs, the homeless families and vets first need to be clients of the shelter, which is why so many are sleeping on floors, officials said.
Deronda Metz, director of the Center of Hope, doesn’t expect the construction to disrupt housing for the 340 women and children currently in the shelter.
Metz noted the shelter rehoused seven families in the past week.
“We do have a homeless crisis in Charlotte. But I’ve learned traveling around the country that things are better here than other large cities, where overcapacity keeps the homeless waiting weeks or months just to get in a shelter,” Metz said.
“I see this expansion as a win for Charlotte that will keep families from waiting on the streets or in cars for a bed.”