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Real solution, real home for homeless

For the first time in 23 years, 50-year-old William has a place to call home.

“This is the best I've been living in a long, long time,” he said.

William is a participant in Charlotte's Homeless to Homes, a program developed by Kathy Izard of the Urban Ministry Center. For safety reasons, the Observer is not using his last name.

Homeless to Homes is Charlotte's version of Housing First, a program that takes chronically homeless individuals off the streets and places them in permanent housing. A case manager also helps the participants with long-term problems such as substance abuse or mental illness.

Housing First has celebrated success in cities such as New York and San Francisco. Charlotte's program is one month into its two-year pilot.

A grant from a private donor covers most of the funding. Izard hopes the program will save taxpayers thousands.

Jail and Justice Director Tom Eberly of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office said he wishes the city had more programs like Homeless to Homes.

For the chronically homeless, jail is “a way of life,” Eberly said. These individuals should “seek out other alternatives that are possibly life-changing.”

The program

Homeless to Homes currently has nine participants, ranging in age from 39 to 64. They average about 10 years of homelessness each. Its long-term goal is a 100-unit building with on-site support services.

Just as its name promises, Housing First places homeless individuals in stable housing and then focuses on getting them the help they need.

This necessary stability is almost impossible to secure when the homeless operate in what Izard calls “survival mode.”

“‘What am I gonna eat? How am I gonna shower? There's no room in the shelter, what do I do?'” she said.

There are 5,000 homeless men and women in Charlotte on average, and other programs also help fight the problem.

But Homeless to Homes concentrates specifically on single, chronically homeless men and women – those homeless for more than a year.

They make up only 10 to 20 percent of Charlotte's homeless. But they use 50 percent of resources dedicated to those who are only temporarily homeless.

On any given night in Charlotte, about 20 percent of the jail population is homeless. With jail cells costing $114 a night, Mecklenburg County residents could be spending as much as $53,000 per day on the population of chronically homeless.

The cost of one night in a Homeless to Homes apartment? $28.72.

“We're saving city tax dollars and getting positive outcomes,” Izard said.

Homeless to Homes' rent – $475 per month, plus water and electricity at about $20 to $25 and $88 per month, respectively – is covered mostly by the private grant.

Participants who work or receive disability checks each contribute 30 percent of their income to the rent.

A place to call home

William has been arrested 10 times in Mecklenburg County for misdemeanors such as possession of drug paraphernalia and larceny.

He's also been to N.C. prison twice – once in 2007 for drug possession and once in 1996 for forgery.

He spent 135 days in prison.

William knew he had a problem. But he couldn't find his way out. He was addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol, something he calls “vicious” and “insane.”

He also contracted HIV and hepatitis C through his drug use.

No matter how hard William tried to clean up, he fell back to his addiction.

Izard and other Urban Ministry Center employees had watched William visit the center since its doors opened in 1994.

He fit the criteria: chronically homeless, disabled, able to do well in a community setting. Izard and Markley decided to make William one of Homeless to Homes' pioneer participants.

One month later, William is sober and thrilled to have an apartment of his own. He can't keep a smile off his face.

William spends his time volunteering at the Uptown Men's Shelter or at the Urban Ministry Center.

After 23 years of homelessness, drug addiction and jail time, William finally has a place to call home.

“I know I got a new life,” he said.

For the first time in 23 years, 50-year-old William has a place to call home.

“This is the best I've been living in a long, long time,” he said.

William is a participant in Charlotte's Homeless to Homes, a program developed by Kathy Izard of the Urban Ministry Center. For safety reasons, the Observer is not using his last name.

Homeless to Homes is Charlotte's version of Housing First, a program that takes chronically homeless individuals off the streets and places them in permanent housing. A case manager also helps the participants with long-term problems such as substance abuse or mental illness.

Housing First has celebrated success in cities such as New York and San Francisco. Charlotte's program is one month into its two-year pilot.

A grant from a private donor covers most of the funding. Izard hopes the program will save taxpayers thousands.

Jail and Justice Director Tom Eberly of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office said he wishes the city had more programs like Homeless to Homes.

For the chronically homeless, jail is “a way of life,” Eberly said. These individuals should “seek out other alternatives that are possibly life-changing.”

The program

Homeless to Homes currently has nine participants, ranging in age from 39 to 64. They average about 10 years of homelessness each. Its long-term goal is a 100-unit building with on-site support services.

Just as its name promises, Housing First places homeless individuals in stable housing and then focuses on getting them the help they need.

This necessary stability is almost impossible to secure when the homeless operate in what Izard calls “survival mode.”

“‘What am I gonna eat? How am I gonna shower? There's no room in the shelter, what do I do?'” she said.

There are 5,000 homeless men and women in Charlotte on average, and other programs also help fight the problem.

But Homeless to Homes concentrates specifically on single, chronically homeless men and women – those homeless for more than a year.

They make up only 10 to 20 percent of Charlotte's homeless. But they use 50 percent of resources dedicated to those who are only temporarily homeless.

On any given night in Charlotte, about 20 percent of the jail population is homeless. With jail cells costing $114 a night, Mecklenburg County residents could be spending as much as $53,000 per day on the population of chronically homeless.

The cost of one night in a Homeless to Homes apartment? $28.72.

“We're saving city tax dollars and getting positive outcomes,” Izard said.

Homeless to Homes' rent – $475 per month, plus water and electricity at about $20 to $25 and $88 per month, respectively – is covered mostly by the private grant.

Participants who work or receive disability checks each contribute 30 percent of their income to the rent.

A place to call home

William has been arrested 10 times in Mecklenburg County for misdemeanors such as possession of drug paraphernalia and larceny.

He's also been to N.C. prison twice – once in 2007 for drug possession and once in 1996 for forgery.

He spent 135 days in prison.

William knew he had a problem. But he couldn't find his way out. He was addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol, something he calls “vicious” and “insane.”

He also contracted HIV and hepatitis C through his drug use.

No matter how hard William tried to clean up, he fell back to his addiction.

Izard and other Urban Ministry Center employees had watched William visit the center since its doors opened in 1994.

He fit the criteria: chronically homeless, disabled, able to do well in a community setting. Izard and Markley decided to make William one of Homeless to Homes' pioneer participants.

One month later, William is sober and thrilled to have an apartment of his own. He can't keep a smile off his face.

William spends his time volunteering at the Uptown Men's Shelter or at the Urban Ministry Center.

After 23 years of homelessness, drug addiction and jail time, William finally has a place to call home.

“I know I got a new life,” he said.

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