Two Charlotte men believed to be homeless died Thursday in separate incidents that coincidentally occurred during the city’s annual homeless count – an event that works to keep fragile homeless people from dying on the streets.
One of the men is believed to have died of natural causes under an Interstate 77 overpass in uptown, while the other was killed near a homeless camp, according to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police report.
Liz Clasen-Kelly of the Urban Ministry Center said the deaths had been a poignant reminder to the 250 volunteers involved in the count of the challenges facing homeless people.
“The tragedy of these deaths spur us on,” she said. “We can’t stop what we’re doing because no one should have to die outside.”
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The most troubling of the two cases was the apparent homicide of Andrew Thomas Dyles, 25, who was found lying in a field off North Tryon Street, about a block from the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, officials said.
A cause was not released, but investigators said Dyles had injuries to the upper body and broken bones. He is believed to have been homeless for a week, officials said.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said they were called to the 100 block of Wadsworth Place off N. Tryon Street at 5:06 p.m. Thursday, where they found Dyles covered in blood. He was taken to Carolinas Medical Center, where he died at 9:30 p.m., police said.
Organizers of the annual survey said three volunteers with the homeless count had been in that area 12 hours earlier, and Dyles had been among the homeless interviewed.
The second death involved Azizuddin Mustafa, 61, who was found just before 10 a.m. Thursday under an I-77 bridge over North College Street. He is believed to have died of natural causes, the police report said. The overnight low was 25 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
Nonprofit leaders say the deaths underscore the need for the count, which creates data used by nonprofits that are working to house the homeless.
On average, about 13 people a year die in Mecklenburg County while homeless, advocates say. That included a 61-year-old man who died last January of natural causes while on a park bench near a Trade Street hotel.
This year’s homeless count started Thursday with 250 volunteers visiting camps, shelters, soup kitchens and other places the homeless congregate. It will conclude Saturday afternoon.
Chronically homeless people are a subgroup of the overall homeless population, who are apt to live on the streets for years because of mental illness or addiction.
Charlotte community leaders and nonprofits recently unveiled an $11 million plan called Housing First Charlotte-Mecklenburg that aims to end chronic homelessness in the county by the end of 2016.
The 2015 homeless count added two additional days this year to help the organizers get a better idea of how many chronically homeless live in the county. It’s believed there might be as many as 450 amid an overall homeless population of 4,000 to 5,000 people.
Killings of the homeless have been reported in the past, including a 2008 incident in which Lacoya Martin, 27, was found dead at the 1900 block of Oaklawn Avenue, about 5 miles north of uptown. Martin, who was pregnant, was among the city’s chronically homeless, officials said. A homeless man was later charged in her death and pleaded guilty of manslaughter.
Charlotte Center City Partners, which is helping with the homeless survey, released a statement Friday noting volunteers were advised of the deaths Friday and told they can opt out of service if they had concerns about continuing to participate.
“These deaths emphasize how important it is to end chronic homelessness,” said Lelia King, director of communications for Charlotte Center City Partners. “We will move forward and continue to work every day toward this goal.”