Charlotte City Council vote could add family shelter beds

The Charlotte City Council is set to vote Monday on a proposal to give the Salvation Army $500,000 from the Housing Trust Fund to alleviate years of overcrowding at the city’s only emergency shelter for homeless women and children.

That shelter, the Center of Hope, has proposed spending $1.4 million to transform its third-floor attic into an additional dorm with 64 more beds.

Salvation Army leaders acknowledge the plan could be viewed as conflicting with a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandate that charities focus federal aid on rehousing the homeless, rather than letting them stay indefinitely in shelters.

However, the project is not considered an expansion. Instead, it’s seen as a way to replace 50 beds lost last year when a satellite shelter closed at Caldwell Presbyterian Church near uptown. Lack of funding was one reason for the closure, officials said.

The Center of Hope’s main campus on Spratt Street is Charlotte’s largest shelter for women and children, and it has been over capacity for years, said Maj. Bobby Lancaster, head of Charlotte’s Salvation Army command.

Currently, the 250-bed shelter is taking in 360 women and children a night. Some of the single women are taken by van to a nearby church to sleep. Shelter numbers are up slightly in recent weeks because of the closure of Urban Ministries’ Room in the Inn winter program, which shelters people for the night at area houses of faith and college dorms.

The shelter is so overwhelmed that it is closed to new admissions, with women and children sleeping on the floors.

Lancaster said his agency has been meeting one-on-one with City Council members to explain the crisis, and some have visited the shelter. Expenses will include the cost of adding interior walls, flooring, heating and air, and restrooms to the third floor.

“We can’t do this project without Housing Trust Fund dollars,” Lancaster said. “Charlotte is not the kind of town where you want women and children sleeping on mattresses on the floor of the shelter. That’s not what Charlotte is about.”

Trends show the number of homeless families remains high compared with past years. Since 2009, there has been a 57 percent increase in homelessness among Charlotte families, prompting many nonprofits to launch programs to house them more quickly.

Data from one recent homeless survey found 280 homeless families in the county, representing 41 percent of all homeless people on a single night.

Private donations are being sought for the remaining $900,000 needed for the shelter project. Salvation Army officials are also conducting a campaign to raise the money from foundations and corporations. It’s hoped the project will kick off in August and be complete by November, when cold weather adds to the shelter crowds.

The City Council is expected to also vote on four other affordable housing requests for Housing Trust Fund dollars Monday night. They include two requests for senior housing, one for families and one for an addiction rehab center going into an existing building.

City staff say the council vote may come with little discussion, because council members have already been briefed on the details on the five requests.

If questions do arise, they may center on a $1.05 million request to subsidize an apartment complex off Weddington Road. The City Council voted 9-2 in January to rezone 7.2 acres off Weddington Road so the nonprofit Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership could build 70 affordable apartments there, despite resistance from nearby residents.

Deronda Metz, director of the Center of Hope, said crowding has been eased somewhat by ongoing rehousing programs. Those programs find women in the shelter who are employable and use rent subsidies to place them in apartments. The women are then surrounded with the social services needed to advance their careers and stabilize their finances.

In the past two years, 142 households have entered such programs at the shelter, and 89 percent of them managed to stay housed, Metz said.