Policy change helps keep homeless out of the cold and inside shelters

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As winter temperatures return, the need for a warm place to sleep is that much more important, but Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis is making that even harder for some.

Temperatures are expected to drop down into the 20s in the Charlotte area, and it’s putting more pressure on local shelters that are full now.

“You clear out a few benches in uptown, OK, we’ve got these people housed, connected with friends or family, and then the next day, there’s somebody new on that same bench,” said Allison Winston, the director of the Urban Ministry Center and Men’s Shelter Charlotte.

Officials said that they felt like the weather was severe enough they had to make sure anyone who needs housing through Wednesday morning has a safe place to go.

“It’s harder and harder for somebody who’s experiencing homelessness to get themselves out of the situation given our housing market in Charlotte,” said Winston.

Starting Sunday, the shelter and the Salvation Army Center of Hope each instituted Mecklenburg County’s winter emergency policy, turning no one away.

“These are our neighbors, these are our neighbors,” Commissioner At-Large Pat Cotham said Monday night.

The commissioner handed out supplies and hot food to anyone who needs it.

She said she is relieved that shelters don’t hesitate to expand capacity and put in place a no-turn-away policy

“I know that it is hard on the shelters,” Cotham said. “I know it is rough, but they did it, and I am happy about that.”

In the past, a sustained wind chill of 10 degrees for 24 hours was required for expansion.

Now, advocates are relieved the policy changed to not turning anyone away.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. We don't have to fight the county for once,’” said Stacy Phillips, with Connect Meck With Kindness.

She said it’s a great first step.

“So many people work that are homeless and are trying to get to the shelters when this is going on, and they don't make the cutoff,” Phillips said.

She said it shows leaders are listening to people who are homeless and those who help them.

“The fact that someone can even decide, ‘Oh, I am not sleeping on a bench tonight,’” Phillips said. “(It’s) a really big deal.”

The Charlotte Area Transit System offers free rides to bus shelters as well.

“When we do this, sometimes we have up to 100 extra men sleeping on the floors,” said Winston.

Channel 9 has covered the city’s housing crisis extensively. A few weeks ago, we introduced you to a working mother who lives in a shelter. She had a home for her family, but with rising rent, she couldn’t afford it.

“I’m just so certain that it’s going to come along, that we are able to move off this stepping stone and move forward and the next person will have a spot and not to sit out there in the parking lot and wait,” the woman said.

Winston said she knows the story all too well because they are faced with this daily.

“You clear out a few benches in uptown, OK, we’ve got these people house, connected with friends or family, and then the next day, there’s somebody new on that same bench,” Winston said.

There’s also an urgent need for donations at the women’s shelter on Spratt Street and the men’s shelter on North Tryon Street. They could use fresh blankets and sheets.

These shelters said they’ll have at least 100 more people than they normally serve.

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