Women's shelter turns to churches

One of Charlotte's most well-known social agencies pleaded Thursday for churches to open their doors to homeless women.

The Salvation Army homeless shelter for women and their children near uptown is turning away 20 to 25 people a day because the facility is crowded, said Deronda Metz, the agency's director of social services for greater Charlotte.

Officials are asking congregations to allow the homeless to spend the night in their buildings through Nov. 30. About 100 churches double as shelters from December to March as part of the Room in the Inn program, relieving pressure from year-round shelters.

Five churches have already agreed to participate, but Metz said she needs at least 15 more to sign up.

The move essentially represents an expansion of Room in the Inn. Advocates for the poor have previously discussed the idea, but some say churches don't have the volunteers or other resources to provide shelter for more than four months.

The Salvation Army announced last month that it would halt new admissions.

Recently, 230 people – nearly half of them children – stayed in the building designed to house 200. Some slept on floors or in a television room because all the beds were taken.

Administrators have taken the rare step of forcing residents to leave the shelter after 90 days to free space. Some had lived in the shelter for up to two years because they are disabled and unable to work, Metz said.

“I've never seen this kind of demand,” she said. “I don't know where all of these people are coming from.”

Charlotte has a chronic shortage of shelter beds. Social workers estimate at least 5,000 people are homeless in Mecklenburg County on a given night, but there are fewer than 2,000 shelter beds.

Every spring, temporary winter shelters shut down and year-round shelters struggle to deal with the influx. The problem has grown worse over the years as the homeless population swells, social workers say.

Metz said she is asking churches to host a dozen single women for one week.