CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County has extended its free services for ‘Tent City’ residents through September 30.
Earlier this year, hundreds were forced to vacate tent city, a homeless encampment just north of Uptown Charlotte. The county cited the encampment as a public health concern after a major rat infestation was discovered.
But instead of turning a blind eye, the county stepped in to help and partnered with local agencies and non-profits to offer Tent City residents a free 90-day hotel stay, complete with 3-meals a day and free laundry services.
“We moved 214 individuals from the encampment to the hotels and there’s currently 140 people remaining at the two hotels,” Karen Pelletier, the Division Director of Housing Strategy, Innovation, & Alignment for Mecklenburg County Community Support Services said.
Pelletier said the county extended their services because they need more time to allow more people to access a housing resource. So far, 10 people have been moved into permanent housing, with 30 more in the housing search process. But the process, she said, is slow and complicated.
“We do not have enough affordable housing, we do not have enough landlords that are going to rent to people with criminal histories, open criminal cases, bad credit," Pelletier said.
Support agencies are also on site, including case management by A Roof Above, Premise Resource Network, Hearts Beat for One, Black Love, Monarch Mental Health Services and Anuvia for addiction treatment and recovery.
“So many of the individuals at the hotel are struggling with substance abuse and mental health disorders,” she said.
But more than a roof over their head, Pelletier said the experience, born out of a health crisis, has given new life to so many who’ve spent so long on the streets. Many, whom she said had jobs, while living in Tent City, but simply couldn’t get ahead.
“This is where I get emotional,” she said, “People being able to shower before they go to work or have an address to put down on a job application, , it’s those kinds of things that I think so many of us take for granted, but people living outside or people experiencing homelessness simply don’t have.”
Some, she said, told her they hadn’t taken a shower or bath in private in years, as they were either living outside or cycling in and out of the shelter systems.
“Just knowing that, that basic right and human dignity people have been able to access has been just awe-inspiring," she said.
Pelletier said she herself has also been inspired.
“I haven’t felt this inspired about how we have to do things differently since hurricane Katrina,” she said, “I feel like we are learning things every day on how to do things better.”
She said this September when federal FEMA money runs out, she knows some will choose to return to the streets.
“We’re talking about individuals who have been sleeping outside, that’s really about system fail, so hopefully out of all of this, it may not be about adding more funding to help people who are living outside, it’s really about how do you prevent people from living outside.”