‘I am really speechless’: Hundreds attend virtual town hall on homelessness

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Charlotte and Mecklenburg County leaders are asked every day what they are going to do about “Tent City.” Take a trip on the Brookshire, and it is impossible to miss the heartbreaking reality of dozens of residents currently living in tents in uptown.

Hundreds attended a virtual town hall Thursday organized by Mecklenburg County, which is an indicator that many in the community want to help.

“I am really speechless,” said an emotional George Dunlap, chair of the Mecklenburg County Commission. “It gives me hope to know so many people care and are concerned about the citizens of our community.”

The biggest need is affordable housing. Options in Mecklenburg County are limited, and thousands of people need a place to live. An estimated 3,000 people are on the streets or in temporary housing and shelters on any given night in Mecklenburg County.

“No matter where someone is homeless, we are working on paths out of homelessness,” said Liz Clasen-Kelly with Roof Above.

The most visible homeless encampment is off the Brookshire, commonly referred to as “Tent City.”

Leaders estimate that 84 people are currently living there. Officials said 47 people used to live there but transitioned to temporary housing or a shelter. No children reside in the encampment.

There is currently shelter space in Mecklenburg County, and all residents of the Tent City can use it if they wish.

It is important to note there are many reasons why someone may not seek shelter. Sometimes, they have mental health issues or trauma challenges. Some people may be in the cycle of addiction and struggling with the disease. COVID-19 is also a factor, because of the risk of being in a congregate setting.

“I think a common misconception is these individuals could become more independent if they just weren’t lazy or made better choices,” said Britni Easton of Monarch, a behavioral health organization.

For people who choose to not seek shelter, the county and its partners offer a variety of resources. One group doing a lot of work is Block Love Charlotte. Since 2014, Deborah Woolard has been providing food to people who are homeless.

Woolard is encouraging people interested in donating food, items or their time to contact her first to make sure their donation or time is best used. She said, most importantly, the residents of the encampment deserve respect.

“We have to be respectful and mindful of the people who we serve every day,” she said.

Click here for a list of ways to help people experiencing homelessness in Mecklenburg County:

The uptown encampment sits on land owned by Roof Above, Verizon, Morningstar Storage, the city of Charlotte and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Leaders said residents of the encampment will not be forced out unless the property owner asks for enforcement of trespassing laws.

The county stated public and private support is needed to ensure homeless residents have access to resources until they are able to transition to a permanent housing solution.