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'It was a house of cards waiting to fall' | Homelessness expected to increase by the end of 2020

Advocates say homelessness was already a significant problem in Mecklenburg County before the COVID pandemic, but projections show it could get worse by the end of t

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — They are our neighbors, who are often ignored in the streets. Homelessness has been a problem for years in Mecklenburg County and across the country, and according to a new pulse report by the CDC, projections show there could be a surge by the end of 2020. 

"It's awful," said Stacy Phillips, a homeless advocate in Huntersville. "This is awful."

She's worked alongside local non-profits to fight homelessness in Mecklenburg County for years. She said leaders haven't taken the issue as seriously as they should have in years past. 

"It was a house of cards waiting to fall," said Phillips. 

Tent cities have been around Charlotte, but they have grown in large numbers since COVID-19. 

They will likely continue to grow by the year's end. There could possibly be a 40-45 percent surge in homelessness across the country by the end of 2020, according to a report that was given to Mecklenburg County commissioners by county staff. 

The report also showed roughly 20 percent of North Carolinians have little to no confidence they'll be able to pay their next rent or mortage payment. A breakdown on ethnicities provides more troubling information as 53 percent of the Hispanic population has those same sentiments. It could add insult to injury, putting more families out on the streets. 

"They are your restaurant workers. They are your kid's teachers, they are our first responders," said Phillips.

She says there isn't enough room in shelters and add in social distancing because of the pandemic, and there's less room. She is hoping that the county will include more money in their next budget for local non-profits that she said are doing more to fill the gaps that the county is failing to do. 

"It shouldn't be this difficult to do right by people," she added. 

"We need to be doing more than what we're doing," said George Dunlap, who serves as the chairman to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. "If you've ever been there," he said as he held back tears. "You won't walk away the same."

Mecklenburg County has leased hotels for those without a home who had COVID symptoms, expanded

It's a rental assistance program, and paid hotel stay extensions and utility payments for 535 households.

But the pressure is on for more to be done. 

Phillips hopes the county and city will invest even more than they have to affordable housing, and lower property taxes that make it unaffordable to live in the county. 

Now, only time will tell as families continue to live through hard financial times. 

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