A coalition of community leaders announced Wednesday that it is building an apartment project in west Charlotte that will be big enough to house one third of the city’s known population of chronically homeless, a segment of the population prone to living on the streets for years due to disabilities or addictions.
The cost of the 120-units is $12 million, money to be raised in coming months through donations. However, the backers are not waiting to start construction and are already securing 2.4 acres off Wilkinson Boulevard.
Completion of the still unnamed apartment community is expected in spring 2018.
Dale Mullennix, executive director of Charlotte’s Urban Ministry Center, is taking the lead on helping raise the money on behalf of Housing First Charlotte-Mecklenburg, a coalition of public, private and nonprofit community leaders dedicated to ending chronic homelessness by the end of this year.
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“The completion ... of this building will likely mark the successful conclusion of the initiative to end chronic homelessness,” said Mullennix. “And to say we live in a community that believes it can end chronic homelessness shows a big change in attitude about what is possible. The so called ‘homeless problem’ is no longer this black hole we have to accept. We’re ending it.”
The location of the site is not being divulged until a purchase is final. However, meetings with neighbors have begun, he said. Zoning changes won’t be needed for the site, which officials say is near public transportation, a grocery store, drug store and health clinic, officials said.
Mullennix announced the campaign Wednesday during a ceremony marking the completion of 35 additional apartments for Moore Place, a 120-unit apartment complex that has won national attention as a model for getting mentally ill and disabled people off the streets.
Mecklenburg County still has 345 chronically homeless people waiting to be housed. The chronically homeless are a small but ubiquitous part of the overall homeless population prone to living on the streets for years, even decades. They cost tax payers millions of dollars annually, due to arrests for petty crimes and time spent in jail, emergency rooms and hospitals.
UNC Charlotte researchers compiled data last year that showed Moore Place had reduced local taxpayer costs associated with the homeless by $2.4 million in its first year.
A January count of Mecklenburg County’s homeless population showed a 39 percent drop in chronic homelessness, when compared to the same time last year. Compared to 2010, the numbers are down by 45 percent.
Still, Housing First officials say they are unsure if the coalition can meet its Dec. 31 deadline to house the remaining chronically homeless, given the new 120-unit apartment complex won’t be finished until 2018. The group is evaluating whether to extend its goal.
The Housing First initiative was launched last year to find a solution to the growing number of complaints about homeless people sleeping on the benches and sidewalks of uptown. Partners in Housing First include shelters, congregations, major uptown employers, hospitals and city and county government.
Many of those same entities are part of the group fundraising for the new facility, Mullennix said.
Liz Clasen-Kelly of the Urban Ministry Center says 323 chronically homeless have been housed since Housing First launched. A few dozen of them were homeless veterans. She says the biggest challenge facing Housing First is Charlotte’s lack of affordable housing for the chronically homeless, which is why new construction is needed.
In all, Housing First wants to create 250 new housing units for the chronically homeless, including the use of existing apartments scattered around the community, she said.
The most recent of the chronically homeless to be housed is 59-year-old Ronnie White, an Army veteran who moved into one of the new Moore Place apartments Wednesday.
White, a Kannapolis native, is disabled and says he lived on the streets of Charlotte for 20 years. He admits being among the people who slept on benches surrounding the Bank of America headquarters on Tryon Street, though he has lately been staying at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte on North Tryon Street.
“I stopped sleeping at the bank when I opened my eyes at 3 or 4 o’clock one morning and a man the size of a bear was standing over me, just staring down at me. It scared me to death,” said White, noting the man quickly darted back into the dark.
“I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s dangerous on the streets. I just wish I could go to the Men’s Shelter and scoop them all up and bring them to Moore Place. Tonight will be my first night here. Even flipping on the light switch felt good.”