CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As Mecklenburg County gives out free hotel rooms to those wanting a warm place to stay after being forced out of Charlotte's Tent City, officials continue to search for long-term solutions to the area's homelessness.
"Let me be clear, this is not a Mecklenburg problem. This is a community problem," said Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio at a virtual news conference on Thursday.
Beyond the finger-pointing between the Mecklenburg County government and the City of Charlotte government, there are thousands of homeless neighbors whose lives are depending on the decisions both government entities make.
"What we're trying to do is make the wheel work like it's supposed to," said Deborah Woolard, founder of Block Love Charlotte, a non-profit that helps serve the homeless population. "The tire is flat."
Several area non-profits have compassionately been the band-aid for a wound that needs stitches.
"I rate it a two, a two out of ten," Woolard said in regards to the county's response and lack of communication in regards to the abatement order kicking Tent City residents out.
"When we're talking about lives, when we're talking about people's rights, when we're talking about individuals who have hearts just like you and me," she said. "No one took that into consideration."
She does not want to put the blame on any one entity, but accountability is needed before forming lasting solutions.
"This is an honest grade. We have to look at it for what it is. It's a two," she said.
The county has fought a long fight for temporary solutions, mental health services, temporary hotels and housing, and has funded non-profits doing the boots-on-the-ground work.
However, it's clear that something or things are missing.
Other cities like Houston have tried a housing first initiative, providing homes to the homeless before focusing on fixing the person.
Cities like Kansas City have built villages of tiny homes. In Missouri, 49 tiny homes were built to help house homeless veterans. It offered a roof over their heads, a health care office, dental office, and other services.
Diorio said on Thursday that the county was looking into the idea.
"We're looking at potentially some county property to leverage for that purpose. We're looking at that very closely," she said.
Diorio also made a renewed call to property owners who may be interested in giving some of their land up for a tiny house project.
"I feel amazing right now," said Shannon Hodges, a woman who took the county up on their offer of a free hotel room on Thursday night.
She and dozens of others will be provided with free meals, warm showers, washed clothes, and a bed to sleep on for 90 days as county services are provided, working with folks to find them jobs, and get the proper training and treatment needed to get them back on track.
It makes you feel whole. It makes you feel human," Hodges said.
She is thankful for the efforts the county is making but is hopeful more lasting solutions will come soon.
Hodges wants to work, but is wanting job training, interview training and more to secure a good-paying job.
"Step up and help us get that," she said. "A lot of places now, it's fast food and minimum wage and with the way that the rent goes in Charlotte, we can't afford that."
Diorio said the county is continuing to explore options for permanent solutions, as the community waits and helpers serve.
"This is my life's work, this is my full-time journey," Woolard said.