[Hpn] Economy pushes more people to financial edge:Number of homeless, needy rises ...
Morgan W. Brown
Sun, 17 Jun 2001 16:22:44 -0400
Sunday, June 17, 2001
Charlotte Observer <http://www.charlotte.com/observer/>
Top Stories - A-SECTION
Demand for assistance increases
Economy pushes more people to financial edge
Number of homeless, needy rises with layoffs, population growth
By JAY PARSONS
The number of people needing help to pay bills and find affordable housing
is rising sharply in the Charlotte area - growing pains of a region
expanding in the midst of a sluggish economy.
Increased demand for homeless shelter beds and other social services is not
surprising, considering the downturn in the economy, agencies say, but the
overwhelming volume has caught organizations off guard.
Nearly 40,000 people in Mecklenburg County filed for initial
unemployment benefits between July of last year and the end of March.
More than 30,000 people moved to the Charlotte region looking for work
in the past year. Only 20,000 of them got jobs.
Since September, about 100 people have asked for help each day at
Charlotte's Crisis Assistance Ministry. Normally at this time of year, the
number is 65.
Last year, about 20,000 Mecklenburg County households received
financial assistance from agencies that help people avoid eviction or
utility cut-off, according to a county report. Officials fear that number
will rise drastically this year, said Carol Morris, the report's author.
Crisis Assistance, the largest support organization in the region, topped an
agency record in March by subsidizing the bills of 2,100 households with
$560,000. In May, the ministry broke its funding record again and is on its
way to another record this month.
"This month, we're turning away more people because we can't contain that
level of increase," said Carol Hughes, Crisis Assistance executive director.
"In an attempt to serve everyone we can, we're having to be more
conservative in the aid we provide."
Living on the edge
Not all the needy are jobless. About 70 percent of Crisis Assistance's
clients are employed, some part time. Rising costs of living are forcing
low-paid workers, already on the edge a few months ago, to apply for aid.
Johnnie Mae Harris was a worker in need when she first came to Crisis
Assistance last month. Her husband had been forced into retirement by
cancer and she was struggling to provide. After she was laid off by a
nursing home, Harris returned to Crisis Assistance. She got funds only for
late charges on utility payments.
"I used to go to Crisis Assistance Ministry to give food. Now I'm the one in
need," Harris said. "I go there and think, `Lord, I just hope they'll help
me this time and maybe I'll have a job next time.'"
For last-resort service agencies such as Crisis Assistance, winter is the
annual crunch season. That's when organizations help the poor pay soaring
heating costs. The summer needs usually are lessened by warm weather and
plentiful part-time employment, a time for the low-income work force and the
agencies that assist them to regroup.
"There's just no end to what people need. With the falling economy and job
layoffs, we're feeling it," said Linda Breen, development director at Crisis
Assistance. "We would normally be seeing a downturn right now, but it just
Althea Hargrove visited Crisis Assistance three weeks after she lost her job
at a local computer company. She and her husband, out of work since last
fall, have two children.
"If I wasn't at rock bottom, I wouldn't be here," Hargrove said. "I'm
getting to the point where my gas, electricity and water bills are pushing
me and could disconnect anytime."
Growing despite problems
The nation's second-fastest growing region in the last 10 years also owns
the second-fastest unemployment rate increase over the last year, from 2.6
percent to 3.7 percent. And yet the Charlotte area's once hot job market
continues attracting newcomers.
"Much of the discussion in the shelter here is, these are men who come to
Charlotte in anticipation of work," said Frank Mansfield, executive director
of the Uptown Shelter for homeless men. "They stay at motels until their
funds run out. The word is out that Charlotte is a booming place with a lot
Denise Willis moved to Charlotte from Charleston two months ago. At the
steering wheel of her 18-wheeler, she read about Charlotte's "big bankers"
and "booming economy" during her drives through. Living at the Salvation
Army Shelter wasn't in her grand relocation plans.
"When I came to Charlotte in search of employment, I thought it'd be easier
in a larger city," said Willis, who has been jobless since November. "What
you have in the bank could go really fast if you don't have a backup system,
but I did the best with what I had.
"When you're down to zero and you need to call about jobs, you think,
`God, I need to call this lady and I ain't got 35 cents.' It seems like
nothing but it's a lot."
After two months of job hunting with the aid of three agencies, Willis found
a job as a church van driver, but still lives in the shelter.
Social workers outside Mecklenburg County said some neighboring
counties without adequate services send people to them.
"People just show up, sometimes for one night, sometimes more," said Don
English, manager of Statesville's Fifth Street Shelter Ministry.
In Upstate South Carolina, the need has outgrown the facilities and
advocates frequently send people to Charlotte for help.
"We're getting people who need longer than emergency overnight shelter,"
said Linda Wilson, deputy director of South Carolina's Upstate Homeless
Coalition. "When these people lose their jobs, they're on the edge already
and they don't have the opportunity to save. And then their landlords say
The Pilgrim's Inn, a Rock Hill transition housing shelter for women with
children, is at capacity and sending people elsewhere.
"The subsidized housing market is tight, and the waiting lists are
tremendous," said Ericka Woods of Pilgrim's Inn.
A growing homeless community is a side effect of reaching the metropolitan
status Charlotte area leaders crave. Homelessness is rising in most of the
nation's largest cities. The swelling Charlotte region is beginning to face
similar big-city issues, said Morris, author of the county homelessness
"It's a fact of a growing community," Morris said. "Hopefully, the homeless
population won't grow at the rate of the community population. Homelessness
is always going to be an issue, but there are different degrees of it and we
need to lower ours as we grow."
Morris' 102-page study is the foundation of a task force chaired by former
County Manager Jerry Fox. The 150 volunteer committee members,
representing the government, social agencies and the homeless, begin a
10-month project in late July to develop a strategic plan for combating
homelessness in Mecklenburg.
"I think we can come up with a plan to relieve people forced into
homelessness and people on the edge living paycheck to paycheck," Fox
said. "It will be up to the community to come through and volunteer and
Jay Parsons: (704)-358-6160; email@example.com
To help or get help
Mecklenburg County The Salvation Army 534 Spratt St. Charlotte, NC
28206 (704) 334-4731 Crisis Assistance Ministry 500A Spratt St.
Charlotte, NC 28206 (704) 371-3001 Gaston County The Salvation Army
107 S. Broad St. Gastonia, NC 28052 (704) 867-6145 York County The
Pilgrim's Inn 236 W. Main St. Rock Hill, SC 29730 (803) 327-4227
Iredell County Fifth Street Shelter Ministry 1400 Fifth St. Statesville, NC
28677 (704) 872-4045 Union County Community Shelter 311 E. Jefferson St.
Monroe, NC 28112 (704) 289-5300
---End of forwarded article---
Letter to the editor: Guidelines:
~~~Related Web sites:
Affordable Housing Strategy Report; May 2000; Executive Summary:
-- For more information regarding Affordable Housing Strategy Report
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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission
600 East Fourth Street (8th Floor)
Charlotte, North Carolina 28202
Affordable Housing Strategy Report / Implementation:
Official Site for Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina:
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those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
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-------End of forward-------
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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