Overcrowded shelter asks houses of faith to take in homeless women it must turn away

Children that are a part of the Salvation Army's Boys and Girls Club work on crafts on April 12, 2017 at the Salvation Army Center of Hope Shelter in Charlotte.
Children that are a part of the Salvation Army's Boys and Girls Club work on crafts on April 12, 2017 at the Salvation Army Center of Hope Shelter in Charlotte. mmathis@charlotteobserver.com

The Salvation Army’s homeless shelter for women and children has finally reached its limit after years of overcrowding, and it is now asking congregations in Mecklenburg County to help.

Specifically, the Center of Hope is asking houses of faith to consider taking in some of the single women at its doorstep who have no place else to go.

The shelter has room for 360 women and children but is currently hosting about 400 a night. As many as a dozen a day are turned away, adding to the city’s growing ranks of people living in cars, parks and camp sites.

“We, as a city, don’t want to build more shelters,” says Deronda Metz, head of social services for the Salvation Army. “For me, this is probably a better option than building. It’s also the humane thing to do.”

A meeting is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday at the Center of Hope to offer details on what’s being asked of potential host sites (no showers needed, for example). The hope is to get as many houses of faith as possible to attend.

The goal, say shelter officials, is to find enough space in the community to handle up to 45 more women a night. The campaign seeks to have sites consider taking in a group of women for one week. The Salvation Army intends to screen all the women seeking to use the program.

The shelter, just north of uptown, has seen a jump in women and children seeking beds since the Urban Ministry’s winter program, Room in the Inn, closed March 31. About 70 women and children were in the program on its final night, including five families. The shelter took in the five families and 20 of the single women. The rest had to fend for themselves.

Since then, the shelter has continued turning people away on a daily basis. The staff hopes most will find a space to sleep at the homes of friends or relatives, but Metz knows some end up living in their cars or worse.

“We turned away four families this morning, including one with six people in it,” Metz said during a recent interview.

“Our strategy is to give (homeless) people some options, others than to tell them there is no option. … With that in mind, we’re reaching out to churches and asking them to come alongside us, from June to November, by sheltering women.”

Among the churches that have already stepped up to help the Center of Hope is Providence Presbyterian Church, which takes in a group of single women about once a year. The church’s volunteer team is offering to help other churches set up their own sheltering programs.

Tandy Graham, who works with the church’s shelter program, says taking in homeless women has been eye opening for members of the congregation.

“Some lasting friendships have been made. Some of our volunteers stay in touch with the women and even occasionally met some out for lunch,” Graham said

“You begin to realize that they (the homeless women) are not that much different than we are. They might be different socioeconomically, but they have the same concerns, the same wants. They want a home, safety and independence.”

The campaign to recruit congregations comes at a time when family homelessness has been edging up, while overall homelessness has dropped in the city.

There were more people in the women’s shelter this year during the annual count (done in January), but the city’s 2017 numbers won’t be released for another two weeks. Experts blame the rise in homeless families on the city’s lack of affordable housing.

How to help

If you would like to find out more about how to help the Salvation Army with its overflow of single homeless women, call Deronda Metz at 704-348-2560 ext. 245 or email Deronda.Metz@uss.salvationarmy.org