Women’s shelter hits goal for expansion work

A plan to expand the city’s overcrowded emergency shelter for homeless women and children has reached its $1.4 million campaign goal, but organizers say it’s now unlikely the project will be finished in time for this winter’s frigid temperatures.

Salvation Army officials had hoped to have the project finished by Dec. 1, a time when the Center of Hope shelter is typically far over capacity. However, permitting and rezoning requirements are prompting the agency to delay work for several weeks, officials said.

It’s now predicted that work won’t be done until spring. The $1.4 million will be used to renovate the shelter’s third floor into dorm space for 64 beds. The area is currently used for storage.

Marty Sanders, director of development for the Salvation Army, said the final dollars for the expansion came from the Merancas Foundation and Christ Episcopal Church. The city contributed the largest portion, $500,000. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, the Leon Levine Foundation, SunTrust, United Way and Covenant Presbyterian Church also contributed money.

It took less than 10 months to raise the money. Salvation Army officials say that’s surprising because shelter expansions remain controversial.

“We did not get turned down by a single funder we asked for money, which is remarkable,” Sanders said.

“I think people were responding to the fact that we had women and children sleeping on the floors. It’s not a dignified way to treat people. Children are truly victims in this, not contributing anything to their predicament.”

Sanders also credited the Charlotte’s Homelessness Task Force and Center City Partners, which recently focused public attention on the growing number of homeless people sleeping on benches in the four blocks surrounding Trade and Tryon streets. A proposal to disrupt the habit by temporarily removing street benches was tabled in July.

Deronda Metz, director of the Center of Hope, said the shelter remains over capacity and continues to have women and children sleeping on the floors. Delaying expansion work means the shelter will once again be relying on the Urban Ministry Center’s Room in the Inn program to take in families turned away from the shelter this winter.

Room in the Inn is a nonprofit effort that coordinates the faith community to take in homeless people one night at a time during the coldest winter months. Metz says she hopes work on the expansion will be finished by the time Room in the Inn shuts down for the season in March.

Recent cold temperatures have already caused a jump in people seeking help from the Center of Hope. Metz said that will only worsen in coming weeks.

“I’m disappointed at the delay, because once again it means that we can’t help the women and children who come to us,” Metz said. “We have no solutions and we can’t give them an answer.”