Cover Story: Homeless not jobless

By Jeff Atkinson - bio - l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Another night of bitter cold temperatures means homeless shelters will be bursting at the seams.  In our Cover Story, we're looking at the homeless in our community.

Who are they?  Where do they live?  And how much does it really cost to have a home in Charlotte?

Sometimes we forget just because someone is homeless doesn't mean they are jobless.  That's the stereotype however, that they are not productive in society.

But you'd be surprised to learn that more than 90% of the homeless in Charlotte have jobs.  And they are homeless because affording a home is out of reach.

He sits in a CATS bus shelter in 23-degree weather.  This is Jeff Grenup's home for the night.  The shelters are full, but he prefers the street life to the shelter anyway.

"People up above you.. moaning and groaning and carrying. I can't deal with it," he says.

In bitter weather like this our thoughts go to those who have to sleep outside.  You see them on the streets.  They fill up the shelters around town.

"Pretty packed.. they were packed last night.. a lot of people out here like this," says Grenup.

Who are the homeless and why are they here?  The answers will surprise you.

"Over 90-percent of homeless people we see have jobs. They work every day."

Floyd Davis leads Community Link, the Charlotte non-profit that helps homeless get into rental housing and helps others become first time homeowners.

Says Davis, "The problem is what they earn is not sufficient for them to be able to afford housing."

And what it takes to afford housing in Charlotte is stunning.  According to government figures the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte is $725 a month.

To afford that you need to make about $14 an hour, $29,000 a year.

Consider of the hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Charlotte area, most of those pay less than $14 a hour.

A minimum wage job that pays over 7 bucks an hour clearly prices you out of the housing market which is why advocates like Floyd Davis are so passionate.

"We have to find ways of making housing affordable for 40-percent of our workforce so that we can continue to have a workforce," says Davis.

Who falls in that threshold earning less than 14-dollars a hour?

People we rely on.  Rookie teachers ($13.54/hr.)  Security guards ($10.01/hr.)  Cooks ($9.83/hr.)  And others (Housekeeping $8.36/hr.)

People like Luke Kannor a doorman at a local pub braving the cold on this night.

"It's tough right now. I've had this over pretty much the whole night. Little heater helps behind me. That's about it," he says.

It's estimated 5-to-8 thousand people in Charlotte are homeless.  It doesn't mean they're jobless.

"It's in our own best interest to begin to focus on this issue as a community," says Community Link's Floyd Davis. 

Charlotte has the highest rents of any city in the state, you typically find around the country in the major metropolitan areas the cost of housing is more expensive.

Is there anything being done?

Charlotte voters have approved bonds to build affordable housing but advocates say it's not enough.

They say we need these workers who do these jobs but what they earn prices them out of the local housing market.

Some communities have gone so far to bus in their work force from outside to do the service-related jobs that need done.