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Former ‘Tent City’ resident reflects on getting own apartment a year after being forced to vacate camp

74 people were placed into permanent housing since last February
A former Tent City resident shares his experience getting his own apartment after moving out of the homeless encampment Tent City in February 2021.
Published: Feb. 18, 2022 at 9:13 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Getting the keys to your own apartment is cause for a celebration, for Jonathan Nixon it meant even more after being homeless.

On Feb. 16, 2021, the Mecklenburg County Public Health issued an Abatement of Imminent Hazard Order to the owners of the property housing the North End Encampment and affecting individuals who reside there (on 12th Street between Tryon and College).

Related: Residents of Charlotte’s “Tent City” required to leave property within 72 hours due to rodent infestation

Residents had only 72 hours to vacate the property, packing up their belongings in a rush to get to county-funded hotels.

“It was scary because I was like I’m going to lose everything I’ve built in an entire two years since the COVID started to build all of that get moved .. blood sweat and tears,” Nixon said.

He was homeless for close to eight years, battling drug addiction and a criminal record that shot down many jobs and home opportunities.

“The felonies I had kind of put me out of that job realm,” Nixon said.

After 10 months of working with Mecklenburg County, substance abuse programs, Roof Above, and Block Love Charlotte he got the keys to his own apartment.

“I laid on the carpet that’s the first thing I did was lay on the carpet. Of course, there was nothing in there just to see if it was new,” Nixon said.

He said it’s the little things like having his own kitchen, bathroom, and living room where he can cheer on his favorite sports teams.

Nixon says the process wasn’t easy because of the lack of affordable housing in the city.

“It’s like you’re not getting anywhere,” he said.

He lived in three hotels last year and got denied by landlords because of his record-- but with patience and prayer, he got the right one just before Thanksgiving and his birthday in November.

“It can be done but you got to start somewhere and you gotta be acceptable and start somewhere,” he said.

Now he’s encouraging other people in the county hotels - to hold on, keep the faith, and don’t let their past define their future.

“Stay patient and pray on it,” he said.

Mecklenburg County initially planned to provide hotel support services along with mental health, substance use programs, mental health services, job support and transportation for 90 days.

Just days away from the 90-day deadline last May, the county extended support through September 30.

“They had additional barriers, with a criminal background, active substance use, not everybody, but a good portion of the individuals do which makes housing even more difficult, which is why we have extended the hotel through September 30,” said Karen Pelletier, Mecklenburg County’s Director of Housing, Innovation, Strategy, and Alignment.

Related: Mecklenburg Co. extends hotel stay, support services for former Tent City residents

In September the county transitioned 60 people to different hotels with the help of Catholic Charities, Block Love Charlotte and Roof Above.

“People will continue to move to housing and then the six individuals will be exited with through either detox or to emergency shelter and that is because they have decided to at the housing option available to them is not what they want,” Pelletier said. “They have been offered either treatment through Anuvia’s detox program or information on how to access emergency shelter.”

Related: ‘People are on a path to housing’: Mecklenburg County, partner organizations transition former Tent City residents to other hotels as they complete housing placement

Mecklenburg County officials told WBTV they are now extending the support services through at least the end of March with the help of Roof Above.

“Mecklenburg County (through FEMA) is continuing to support Roof Above and Catholic Charities in providing hotel rooms and meals/food for the remaining 22 individuals. This plan will continue to at least March 31 while the individuals continue to search for housing,” a spokesperson with the county said.

Hannah Stutts is the Director of Housing Navigation, Unsheltered at Roof Above and has worked closely with many people experiencing homeless.

As of February 1, Mecklenburg County says 22 people are still in the hotels. Stutts is looking forward to helping them find their own apartments.

“We are providing the same kinds of services here there’s housing work, laundry, food, all of that kind of stuff and the gentleman that works through Roof above and oversees that is a wonderful case manager and even has done some social things with them and is creating a sense of community with that core group of people,” Stutts said.

Pelletier says she’s looking forward to continuing these partnerships and supporting people in need of homes, jobs, and mental health services.

“There is a great deal of success to highlight regarding the number of people who are now living in permanent housing, who have engaged in treatment to address their mental health or substance use, and who are now working at a livable wage,” Pelletier said.

As of February 1, county officials are reporting 74 people have permanent housing and 22 are still in hotels.

Mecklenburg County is working hand in hand with Roof Above and Catholic Charities to support the people still inside of the hotels.

“More collaborative partnerships are also a result of this project,” Pelletier said. “There is definitely more work to be done; people still are in need of housing and of services, but we have created a platform to make it more possible and accessible.”

Roof Above is also launching a new affordable housing apartment complex this summer.

“We have so many people who have found housing and I look forward to continuing to get people into their permanent homes,” Stutts said.

In January 2022, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing and Homelessness Strategy released A Home for All: Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Strategy to End and Prevent Homelessness.

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