A Crisis of record numbers


(note:  The following is a web article based on a story WBTV reporter Jeff Atkinson did in early October 2008)

For many people when the economy turns sour, they see it in the losing value of their nest eggs.  For others though the economic downturn means risk of losing it all.  At one Charlotte relief agency they've seen a 40-percent increase in the last six months.  And today was one of the agency's top two days for people showing up seeking help.  PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson reports.

They are at the bottom wrung of life's ladder.  And when the economy turns sour, when the cost of everything goes higher, food and gas and other staples.  And layoffs start happening, they're the first to feel the effects.

"It seems to be a lot of people need a lot of help.. and so I was here..."

When Danielle Bowe showed up at Crisis Assistance Ministry north of Center City today lines were wrapped around the building.  More than 250 people at 7:30 in the morning.

Cars parked on the grass.  Everywhere.

More people in line than on any other single day in the agency's 33 year history, except for maybe one other, they say.

"When are you going to be returning to work?"

Like a hospital E.R. the most serious needs get taken care of first.

"During maternity leave I got behind on my bills..."

In Danielle's case, natural gas to her home was cut off and she needs hot water to bathe her four month old daughter.

Crisis Assistance is paying to get her utilities re-connected.

"It's kinda hard to keep up with your daily bills. My husband he does temp work and sometimes they lay off," she says.

North Carolina's unemployment rate has climed to 6.5 %, up 2% from last year.  The highest it's been since 2002.

At Crisis Assistance they've seen a 40% increase in the number of people seeking help this year.

"What we're seeing is just a complete inability to keep up with the cost of living right now," says Doug Hartjes, development officer for Crisis Assistance Ministry.

The agency assists with rent and utilities.  For some it's the last step before homelessness.

For this couple, one income's not enough to support a family of five.

Says Rondelle Smith of Charlotte, "It hurts. It hurts alot. I'm supposed to be the man and taking care of the house. I can't do it by myself right now. and that's what's so crazy about it. I work full time. It's just not happening out here."

Each year Crisis Assistance helps upwards of 70,000 people.  10% of Mecklenburg county's population.

What happens if it gets worse, they don't know.

And for people like Marie McPhatter, who rely on Crisis Assistance, they're not sure either.

She says, "When I see so many people.. I can't help but think about the people that have not come."

Workers shared with us many people don't see the need in the community because it's not in their face.

But if you want to get a good visual of how the economy is impacting people, it's evidenced by what we saw at Crisis Assistance Ministry today.