A key figure in Charlotte’s battle to end homelessness is stepping away from the fight.
Carson Dean, head of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, announced this week that he will leave the post after eight years on the job. “I’ve been doing this job 24-7 for 15 years, the last eight in Charlotte, and it’s a good time to step aside for someone to build on what we’ve done here,” he said.
An exact date of Dean’s departure and who will replace him are being worked out by the agency’s board, officials said.
During his tenure, Dean led the agency through a merger, introduced a rehousing initiative that got 1,500 men off the street and launched a $7 million campaign last year to renovate the 2 1/2-acre shelter site on North Tryon Street.
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The renovation is controversial, because businesses surrounding the shelter are pushing to have homeless charities moved from North Tryon Street to make way for revitalization. Dean has refused to cooperate, believing homeless men need to be close to the charity and transportation services that are concentrated near uptown.
He says his pending departure shouldn’t be seen as a change in that position for the agency.
“In a growing urban community, you will have competing interests colliding,” said Dean, 47. “I feel we can have a thriving community while also taking the best care possible of those experiencing homelessness. That is the mission I’m focused on.”
North Tryon Street businessman Mark Middlesworth, head of the North End Partners business group, is among those who have been urging the shelter to move to a site that might house multiple charity programs.
Middlesworth said he was surprised and pleased to hear someone new would be taking over at the shelter. “This is not the right place for those (homeless) services,” said Middlesworth, who accuses Dean of being unbending. “Maybe this means a more reasonable person will come to the table.”
Michael Smith of Charlotte Center City Partners cited Dean as an important ally in efforts to deal with homelessness in uptown, where complaints have grown about aggressive panhandling and people sleeping at bus stops and in cars.
“Carson has been a very progressive leader,” Smith said. “I’d hope the next leader will be somebody that will be a great partner and will understand that this is a complex issue that is interconnected to a lot of parts of the community.”
Dean said he is not yet sure what he’ll do after leaving the agency but that his plan is to remain in the Charlotte area.
During his tenure, Dean courted controversy by introducing a variety of new programs that were aimed at minimizing the need for an emergency shelter. He hired staff to help men apply for benefits that could be used to pay rent on housing, including apartments in affluent areas opposed to public housing.
In cases where men didn’t qualify for benefits, he started classes to help them apply for jobs. More recently, he tested and then instituted a diversion program that finds an alternative place for them to stay, including placing men in the homes of relatives.
Carol Hardison of Crisis Assistance Ministry said Dean will likely be remembered most for changing the community’s perception of what an emergency shelter does.
“It’s no longer a place to park members of our society who need a hand up,” she said. “Carson turned the shelter into a place where people should stay the shortest amount of time possible.”