In his dark suit and crisp white shirt and tie, you couldn’t tell Carl Frank Caldwell’s life had been any different from the well-dressed contingent gathered around a lectern at Moore Place on Tuesday.
That contingent had come to the supportive housing complex run by Urban Ministry Center to formally announce a coalition of leaders from businesses, nonprofits, law enforcement and government whose bold mission is to end chronic homelessness in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County by Dec. 31, 2016.
Many had helped the homeless for years, but Caldwell was the only one who had lived and escaped homelessness, finding help and a home in Moore Place and its support system of social workers, nurses and other services.
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Caldwell was a teacher and caring for his mother in Kannapolis when she died in 2004.
“When I lost my mother, I lost me,” Caldwell said in an interview. “I should have gotten counseling, but I didn’t.”
He tried the shelters but felt claustrophobic, so he lived on uptown streets for nearly five years. He began drinking and taking drugs. He spent many nights in emergency rooms when he felt unsafe.
“I lived as a homeless man 24 hours a day,” he said. “It was a scary, scary life.”
There are many more Carl Frank Caldwells in the county, he told the gathering Tuesday.
Most knew that only too well, which is why the coalition wants to raise at least $11 million to build another facility like Moore Place and immediately begin placing Mecklenburg County’s estimated 450 chronically homeless into supportive housing scattered throughout the county.
The money also will go to hire more outreach workers and provide training.
In the room Tuesday were representatives from Bank of America, Wells Fargo, the city, the county, civic groups, Charlotte Housing Authority and agencies and nonprofits that work with the homeless.
Urban Ministry Executive Director Dale Mullennix told the gathering that the chronically homeless represent 10 percent of the county’s homeless but use 50 percent of resources dedicated to helping them, spending time in emergency rooms and county jails.
Employing a strategy called Housing First, the coalition wants to get these people housed, then find them the necessary services to keep them stable.
Mullennix said a UNC Charlotte study on Moore Place’s first year showed how effective the strategy is. It saved $1.8 million in medical bills for tenants, and there was a dramatic drop in arrests and time in jail.
Before Moore Place, the tenants cost the community $40,000 a year. After they left the street and were given help, they cost $14,000 a year.
Mayor Dan Clodfelter and Mecklenburg County Commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller heartily endorsed the initiative and promised the necessary resources and staffing from the city and county.
“This is a very ambitious challenge, but when I look around the room. I have no doubt that this challenge will be met,” Clodfelter said.
Fuller said other cities would be watching to see if Charlotte succeeds.
After the event, Clodfelter shook the hand of Caldwell, considered “the mayor of Moore Place.”
“From one mayor to another mayor, I am glad to meet you,” Clodfelter said.
Caldwell beamed. Since he found a home at Moore Place, he’s no longer drinking and taking drugs. He helps in the community, and he’s become an advocate for the initiative to end chronic homelessness.
“What these people are attempting to do is a miracle,” Caldwell said. “I know what it’s like to live on the street.
“Housing First is very important. Not only is it housing, but we have social workers, full-time nurses. If you don’t take advantage of it, it is your fault.”