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Crowded shelter for women and children opens 64-bed expansion

Deronda Metz, Director of Social Services The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte hugs Vi Lyles, Charlotte City Council at large member prior to a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new third floor space, "The Loft" at the Salvation Army Center of Hope on Wednesday, July 22, 2015.
Deronda Metz, Director of Social Services The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte hugs Vi Lyles, Charlotte City Council at large member prior to a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new third floor space, "The Loft" at the Salvation Army Center of Hope on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The Salvation Army Center of Hope opened a 64-bed expansion Wednesday, ending a decade-long stretch of overcrowding that led to women and children sleeping nightly on the lunch room floors.

Deronda Metz, director of the Center of Hope, said the new dorm means the shelter can once again begin admitting additional homeless women, something it had been forced to stop doing for weeks at a time because of a lack of space. In recent months, the only way new women could be admitted is if someone else left the site.

“We had 46 people sleeping last night on the floor in the dining room, and we were still turning people away as recently as yesterday,” Metz said.

“One was a father, his wife and their three children. ... We turned them away and they were in a car, so I guess that’s where they stayed. Now, we can take that mother and her kids, and the father can go to the Men’s Shelter and stay.”

The expansion brings the number of beds available to 340 at a time when the Center of Hope is still seeing record crowds, even in the post-recession period. This year, the agency had 401 people on the night of the community’s annual homeless count in January, compared with 337 in 2014. The 401 included 97 families with 212 children. The remainder were single women, officials said.

At the height of the recession, the shelter was housing as many as 400 people a night, including sending some to overflow space offered by the Victory Christian Center. The shelter lately has been sleeping 350 residents every night.

The new bed space was added to a never completed third floor of the existing shelter on Spratt Street. The work was paid for with $1.4 million in donations from a mix of private and public resources, including the Merancas Foundation, Christ Episcopal Church, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Wells Fargo, SunTrust, Bank of America and the Leon Levine Foundation. The city contributed the largest portion, $500,000.

United Way, which provides about $1 million annually for the shelter, supported the expansion as well, calling the shelter “a vital resource for desperate people.”

“It’s a matter of treating people with dignity,” said Dennis Marstall of United Way. The shelter “is like an emergency room: Nobody wants to go to the ER, but when you do go, you want the best accommodations and the best services available.”

He also lauded the shelter as having a “good backdoor” with three programs that work to rehouse single women, families and veterans as quickly as possible. Those programs have helped house more than 500 people in recent years, using private and public dollars to supplement rent and other housing costs.

The shelter sought the expansion in part because women must first be admitted to the shelter before they can enroll in the rehousing programs.

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