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How a solution to homelessness in Charlotte is similar to an idea from Houston

A Home for All appears to share similarities with a plan implemented more than a decade ago in one of the largest cities in Texas.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — November is Homelessness Awareness Month, and the numbers across the Charlotte metro area show there are more people facing life without a roof over their heads for the first time. 

According to the latest data from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Dashboard, there are 3,128 people experiencing homelessness in Mecklenburg County as of Sept. 2022. During that month, 663 individuals entered homelessness; of those people, 75% experienced homelessness for the first time. 

Mecklenburg County leaders have a goal to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring. But with that comes challenges.

“It's going to take all of us to work on solutions together," said Karen Pelletier. She's the division director for Housing Innovation & Stabilization Services within Mecklenburg County Community Support Services.

This year, the public and private sectors released a strategy to end and prevent homelessness in Charlotte Mecklenburg. It's called "A Home for All".

“It’s going to take more than government that’s why we have the banks and hospitals systems involved, local nonprofits too," Pelletier said. 

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The Strategic Framework is a high-level overview of recommendations across nine areas: 

  • Prevention 
  • Shelter 
  • Affordable housing 
  • Cross-sector supports
  • Policy 
  • Funding 
  • Data 
  • Communications
  • Long-term strategy

This can include historical and structural inequities; expanding access to and availability of inventory and resources; coordinating systems to ensure they are easy to navigate for the individuals who need to use them, and changing the system to sustain the long-term impact of the work enacted.

In some ways, it's similar to what Houston, Texas implemented about 10 years ago. 

Houston teamed up with local service providers, corporations, and nonprofits with a "housing-first" approach, which moves the most vulnerable from the streets into apartments without requirements. The city cut homelessness by 63% according to the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County.

“We’ve been able to house more than 2,500 people experiencing homelessness over the last decade," said Catherine Villarreal, communications director for the coalition.

Mecklenburg County adopted a "housing-first" approach a few years ago, but now with public and private sectors coming together to create a comprehensive plan, there's hope A Home For All will help tackle the dilemma. 

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Pelletier says one of the big challenges they face is high rent, and how it's currently outpacing wages.

“The number of people that I met at the shelter a couple of weeks ago -- this is their first episode of homelessness, and they become homeless because when their lease renewed their rent increased $400 a month,” Pelletier said. 

“It’s also really hard to get them out of homelessness if you don’t have an apartment to put them in that’s a market-rate affordable apartment, so we’ve benefitted from having an affordable housing market here,” said Villarreal of the coalition's success in Houston.

"A Home for All" has several parts to it and the work is just beginning. Experts say solving homelessness is a problem that will take time.

Contact Lexi Wilson at lwilson@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

WCNC Charlotte is part of seven major media companies and other local institutions producing I Can’t Afford to Live Here, a collaborative reporting project focused on solutions to the affordable housing crisis in Charlotte. It is a project of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, which is supported by the Local Media Project, an initiative launched by the Solutions Journalism Network with support from the Knight Foundation to strengthen and reinvigorate local media ecosystems. See all of our reporting at charlottejournalism.org.


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