Clients of Room in the Inn talk about the program
Charlotte’s homeless population dropped by 9 percent in 2015, extending a trend that has seen a 36 percent decrease in five years. That’s 1,006 people off the streets since 2010, experts say.
The numbers come from Mecklenburg County’s annual homeless count, conducted over 24 hours on Jan. 27. Only one category in the survey increased: people living in places unfit for human habitation, including camps, cars and under bridges.
Their numbers went up 4 percent, to 187 out of 1,818 people.
Family homelessness – among the community’s biggest areas of concern – fell 14 percent, to 226 families (including 414 children). But the decrease largely reflects fewer families living in transitional housing programs for the homeless.
The number of family members living in emergency shelters went up, from 416 to 448 people.
Leaders in Charlotte’s charity community say the survey numbers can be faulted for not including homeless families doubled up in the home of a relative or friend, as well as those staying in hotels.
However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development doesn’t consider such people as officially homeless, at least not until they are in a shelter or on the streets.
The Salvation Army Center of Hope, a shelter for women and children, continues to be over capacity, with 400-plus people a night. Another indicator: The Urban Ministry Center’s Room in the Inn winter shelter program saw a 25 percent increase in family members who needed a place to sleep.
A new question
Stacy Lowry, director of Mecklenburg County Community Support Services, says something new added to the survey this year was a question aimed at finding out how long homeless people had been living in Charlotte.
“Historically, many have asked: Are these individuals our residents, or have they moved here from somewhere else?” Lowry said. “We decided this year to ask that question and found 72 percent of individuals experiencing homelessness have been living in Mecklenburg County for at least two years.”
An annual count of the homeless is required by HUD and is intended to provide a snapshot of how many people are sheltered in homeless programs and are without shelter on any given night.
Lowry says the decreasing numbers are proof nonprofits are on the right track with rapid housing programs. Such programs get people out of shelters and into homes as quickly as possible, then surround them with the support needed to stabilize their lifestyles.
Unfortunately, she says, there’s not enough money to expand the programs as quickly as needed.
Housing charities are hopeful the federal budget will add more money for homeless grants in 2017. The Senate Appropriations Committee has called for $2.3 billion in homeless assistance grants in 2017, an $80 million increase. However, that’s $330 million below what President Barack Obama wants.
Joe Penner, with the Housing Advisory Board of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, says one of the biggest areas of concern for the community should be minors without parents on the streets. There were eight counted in the report this year, and all were in a shelter of some kind.
“It is a small number, but my gosh, it evokes such emotion,” says Penner, who is also concerned that 78 percent of the homeless population is African-American.
“Understanding why is something we need to dig into. We need to crack the code and understand the causes.”