CHARLOTTE, N.C. — According to data published in Mecklenburg County’s Annual Report on Housing and Homelessness, more than 2,000 people were homeless during 2019.
Some are able to find room at a shelter, but many others are forced to sleep in their cars. In the county’s annual report, part of the problem was attributed to a lack of affordable housing.
But in Charlotte, a business is stepping up in a big way. Kiplin Automotive Group, located at 3515 Brookshire Blvd in Northwest Charlotte has opened the dealership’s parking lot up to those driven out of their homes and into homelessness.
“If you’re living in your car, and you have nowhere to go, you’re welcome to come and stay with us,” said Kiplin’s general manager, James Charles.
Charles first began welcoming those living in their cars this January. So far, he says nearly a dozen have taken refuge in the lot.
“We’ve had veterans, the veteran still stays with us, we’ve had some young people, you know, who are working but who just don’t have a place to stay right now,” he said.
Charles says the lot is lit at night and has a security camera rolling 24/7, but most of all he says everyone who stays is welcome. It can often be difficult for some to find a place to park a car overnight in Charlotte.
“Anywhere you park at night or after hours, especially if it’s a business, is trespassing,” says Charles.
Word of his kindness quickly spread and those in the community began dropping off hand-knit hats, food and most recently a portable bathroom. He says he’s also been contacted by several other groups who also help the homeless, who he says advised him he may see an influx of visitors when one of the local shelter programs ends.
“So what I was told is that there are probably a good 20 to 30 families that they know of that park their cars at Urban Ministry and are staying at Rooms at the Inn and when that ends they’re going to need a place to stay,” Charles said.
Charles says he’s not really sure what to expect, but said he’s applied for permits to allow Project Outpour to come to his dealership just in case the turnout grows. Project Outpour is a mobile trailer that provides the homeless with showers.
Realizing the need in Charlotte is greater than what he can provide, Charles says he’s applied to start his own non-profit, called Halo Now in hopes of getting the community involved. He says the non-profit will be dedicated to getting people out of their cars.
“We’re specifically focusing on the people who have a job, are living in their cars because they aren’t making enough money to cover that rent, and they’re just stuck in the middle," he said. "We want to be able to provide them a bathroom, a shower."
Charles envisions buying land and building a facility on the land which will provide people living in their cars with basic necessities, such as a safe place to park and sleep, a bathroom and a shower.
He said he’d also like part of the non-profit to be geared toward providing caseworkers to help people living in their cars find affordable housing.
Charles admits he has big ideas, but he said the importance of his work was made clearer than ever this week when a family pulled into the lot.
“A family, meaning mother -- she was pregnant, and she had three children," he said. "So I said to my wife, 'How am I going to leave the dealership knowing that there’s three babies sleeping in a car?'"
Charles said he was able to work with a local shelter to bring them in. But in the meantime, as he waits for his non-profit to be approved, he’s started a GoFundMe.
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