CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A last-minute plan to house the homeless who might be displaced during the Democratic National Convention has many in the faith community scrambling for volunteers.
A group of agencies that work with the poor are concerned that Charlotte’s homeless population could rise by 150 people a night because extended-stay motels are raising prices for the convention, making them unaffordable options for poor families.
Paul Hanneman, program director for Charlotte’s Urban Ministry Center, sent an email last Friday to dozens of churches, synagogues and other agencies that normally shelter the homeless during winter months as part of the Room In The Inn program.
Hanneman wrote that at least 150 beds – a “best guesstimate” – could be needed each night from Aug. 24 through Sept. 7, the day after the DNC ends.
“These … include people who are homeless and sleeping in center city Charlotte, and families living in motels who are being displaced before and during the DNC,” Hanneman wrote in his email.
Alice Wirz is a co-coordinator of the Room In The Inn program at St John’s Baptist in the Elizabeth neighborhood southeast of uptown. Wirz said the church plans to be open to the homeless on two Fridays, Aug. 31 and Sept. 7.
“Since it was such short notice, we’re not sure if we can get our act together, but we’re going to try,” she said. “We can certainly give the people who sleep under bridges or out wherever a place to sleep.“
Room In The Inn typically operates from December through March.
Fred Fisher, a coordinator for Room In The Inn at Providence United Methodist Church, said he is looking for feedback from the congregation before deciding what to do.
“We’re willing to support, as we always will be, but we’re disappointed that we’re being put in this position,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s going to be a tremendous amount of families displaced ... and I don’t know if we’ll be able to support this request.”
Many other congregation representatives expressed hesitation to commit to plans before more details are released.
A strained system
On Monday, several agencies in Charlotte’s Homeless Services Network met to formulate the plan, but nothing was finalized, two people at the meeting said. Agencies represented at the meeting included the Urban Ministry, Salvation Army, A Child’s Place and the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte.
“This is an attempt to collaborate and discuss a potential solution to an already strained system,” said Darren Ash, executive director of Charlotte Family Housing. “A lot of the lower-priced, extended-stay hotels will be occupied during the convention.
“We’re just being proactive and getting ahead of the curve for the potential increase with our homeless population.”
A source at Monday’s meeting said many extended-stay motels are planning to raise their prices – some by tenfold – during the convention.
Ricky Patel, manager of the Sunset Inn near the I-85 in North Charlotte, said the hotel, which normally books its 87 rooms for $35 to $40 a night, will raise prices to $250.
He said other area hotels and motels will be doing the same, adding that most are going to be stricter on background checks during the time of the convention.
No request by city, DNC
Ash and Deronda Metz, director of social services for the Salvation Army, stressed that neither the city nor DNC is not involved in the Room In The Inn effort.
“We in the network have been putting together a plan – just in case,” Metz said.
Initially, some people who work with the Room In The Inn program questioned the motivation for the last-minute request.
“From the message I got over the email, it sounded like the city was trying to get the homeless out of the way for the DNC,” said Sandi McGarrah of Charlotte, who chairs the Room In The Inn committee at her church. “It just didn’t feel right.
“But it makes me feel better that this request didn’t come from the city or DNC. The churches are always in there willing to help, whenever we can.”
Rabbi Judy Schindler, senior rabbi of Temple Beth El, has been involved in planning the outreach effort by appealing to congregations to take part.
“It’s not about getting the homeless off the streets at all,” she said. “It’s never, ever been a call to get homeless off the streets. It’s that some families lose their housing.”