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From homeless to hopeful: Former ‘Tent City’ residents find aide from local organizations

Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 6:54 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - What was once known as Charlotte’s “Tent City,” where hundreds of tents housed those who were without a home, is now vacant.

Up until about two months ago, the homeless encampment had more than 200 residents.

That was until Mecklenburg County issued an “abatement order,” forcing all residents to leave the premises along 12 and College streets in the northern part of uptown Charlotte, effective Feb. 15, 2021. They were given just 72 hours to pack up their belonging and move on.

Officials said the residents were told to leave because of a ”rat infestation” due to the trash left out, and that conditions were “dangerous.”

Now, that area remains completely empty, not a soul in sight, other than cars passing by.

The area where a majority of the tents were is now filled with gravel and a chain-link fence. The port-o-potty’s were also removed, along with the hand-washing station.

Since then, local grassroots organizations have shown support, and have even worked with the county to find resources and temporary housing.

The county was working with multiple organizations including Hearts Beat as One, Just Do It Movement, Hearts for the Invisible, and Block Love Charlotte.

There have been many other non-profits and other organizations that are working to help the homeless population from Tent City and other areas of Mecklenburg County.

On Tuesday, the City of Charlotte announced it is allocating nearly $6 million to help the homeless, including a year of housing for 75 Tent City residents.

Organizations like the United Way, and multiple charities, have stepped up to help people from “Tent City” get into more permanent-type housing.

Nonprofit SocialServe and Catholic Charities are also partnering with the city but there are many other grassroots organizations, independently providing support for our houseless neighbors.

“This is the piece of the puzzle,” said Kathryn Firmin-Sellers, from United Way of Central Carolinas.”

This piece – moving out of temporary hotel housing – to the puzzle is to find a more permanent solution for the homeless. Various organizations are coming together to help Charlotte’s homeless population.

Kathryn Firmin-Sellers with the United Way of Central Carolinas says United Way will be at the center of these efforts along with SocialServe and Catholic Charities.

“Catholic Charities will do the supportive services piece and Social Serve will do the rental subsidies administration and the housing search navigation,” Firmin-Sellers said.

Recently-announced funding from the city will go towards employment and workforce assistance, connections to financial benefits and mental health and substance use counseling.

Outside of those partners, other grassroots organizations like the nonprofit “Just Do It Movement” are helping people get IDs and social security cards along with offering financial literacy courses.

“You need those items to be able to even get a job,” said Jessica Gibson, from “Just Do It Movement.” “You need those items to even take advantage of housing opportunities because if you don’t have any type of ID, then you’re considered John Doe.”

There are more groups helping as well. The Just Do It Movement will be joined by Hearts Beat as One, Hearts for the Invisible Coalition and Block Love CLT – all teaming up to help former Tent City residents.

Gibson said there is plenty of work to be done.

“I would hope that some of the grassroots organizations would be able to take part in that, but if not, my main goal, my main focus is our neighbors getting the help they need,” Gibson said.

While this is just one step towards helping those without homes find a place to go, Firmin-Sellers said the long-term solution will take getting to the root of the problem.

“If we want to be serious about tackling homelessness, we have to be serious about housing  and affordable housing at all price points,” she said.

As for the $6 million the City of Charlotte is allocating toward the homeless, the plan is to provide housing for more than a year for more than 75 people.

Pamela Wideman, City of Charlotte’s Housing & Neighborhood director, said those 75 people will be determined in collaboration with local housing service providers.

“Housing providers, through a coordinated approach, continuously work to identify housing for homeless individuals and families,” Wideman told WBTV. “The 75 households for this project were determined in collaboration with local housing services providers. Based on an initial assessment, the goal is that with a short-term (one-year) rental subsidy coupled with supportive services, these households can go on to be self-sufficient in a permanent supportive housing unit.”

Those grassroots organizations will receive some funding to continue to assist the homeless in Charlotte.

Wideman said the organizations discussed at Monday’s City Council meeting will receive funding as soon as the council approves the funding into the existing budget and the contracts are finalized.

“Additional funding approvals must be received, then vetted by City staff and approved by the City Council,” Wideman said.

Also, a portion of the $6 million will go to local homeless shelters, including the Salvation Army Women’s Shelter Center of Hope, which will bring households who are currently in hotels scattered throughout the city together in one location so that they are better able to receive supportive services, which will better position them on a path to self-sufficiency,” according to Wideman.

The Salvation Army is planning for this to occur by June.

“With each of these awards, it’s important to remember that they are not overnight quick fixes and will require patience from our community and will require a collaborative approach,” Wideman added.

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