9 Investigates

Thousands of children in Charlotte are homeless

CHARLOTTE, NC — "I look at them and I wonder what's all on their mind you know? I'm constantly asking myself that question, are they okay?" said Joerica Rhodes.

Rhodes is a single mother. She and her three children live at the Salvation Army's Center of Hope.  It's a homeless shelter for women and children, where they share a space with Kanjella Orr and her son. Orr has three other children living with family up north while she works to find a stable home.

"I beat myself up about them all the time," Orr told Channel 9. "It makes me feel like a failure and it hurts because I want to do better, but I just can't sometimes."

Right now, there are more than 4,000 children in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools who are homeless.

Shantiqua Neely says that number is growing. She's with 'A Child's Place,' a non-profit that works with homeless children.

"When you think of homelessness typically you think of that man on the street, you don't think of families," Neely said.  "We're looking at that forgotten group."

A report from UNC-Charlotte's Urban Institute says homeless children develop four times as many respiratory infections and twice as many ear infections as children that are not homeless and are also four times more likely to have asthma.  They're also more likely to perform below grade level in math and reading, to have more absences from school, and to change schools.


"Since my son was born, I have moved 18 times in ten years," Rhodes said.

"I didn't finish school," Orr told Channel 9. "So, I want my children to finish school."

For the past few months, their kids have been in one school.  But the looming summer break brings incredible uncertainty. These moms will be busy working, looking for housing, and won't always have transportation for their children.

"What's going to happen? There's a lack of supervision during that time, a lack of meals, and quite frankly it's a safety issue for our children," Neely said.

"How am I gonna go to work and be able to make sure that they have somewhere to go? It's gonna be a challenge because I don't really know," said Rhodes.  "I couldn't even tell you how I'm going to handle this summer. It's like day-by-day my life changes."

Neely says affordable housing, which Kanjella Orr and Joerica Rhodes have struggled to find, is just a piece of the problem. She says low wages are partly to blame, and the community needs to recognize this population.

"When your child is sitting in the seat and they're getting their education, who are they sitting next to?" she asked.

"It breaks my heart because I want anything that any other mother wants for her children," Rhodes told us. "A home."

There are some options for homeless children over the summer, if families can get to them. A Child's Place partners with Freedom Schools, which provides an affordable summer program for the children they serve. They also encourage families to visit the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library and Park and Recreation facilities.

CMS does provide breakfast and lunch for students at about 30 schools through the summer.  The district's After School Enrichment Program also continues through the summer with a camp.