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Coalition targets homeless

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Charlotte groups aim to end homelessness.

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. [02.17.04] — An estimated 10,000 people in Mecklenburg County are homeless, including a growing number of young adults and families.

Yet while roughly 20 government and nonprofit agencies offer services for homeless people, including those with mental illness or substance-abuse problems, the problem is chronic and has eluded a solution.

Chris Wolf aims to change that, and is applying the lessons of a 15-year investment-banking career to build awareness about the issue and develop partnerships and tools to tackle it.

Wolf was hired in September as president and executive director of A Way Home, a group formed to carry out recommendations issued in June by the Community Task Force on Homelessness.

A key role for the new group, which also builds on efforts by the Homeless Services Network, is to champion and better connect agencies working on homelessness and create a business plan to end it.

After 15 years at J.P. Morgan in New York City and at NationsBank Capital Markets and First Union Capital Markets in Charlotte, Wolf spent four years as CEO of Valley of the Sun, Habitat for Humanity, in Phoenix, the largest Habitat affiliate in the western United States.

“This is harder than anything I’ve ever done before,” he says. “If we don’t raise a enough money to give people a chance to have a decent place to live, real people suffer.”

But raising money to build housing, while critical, represents only part of the challenge, he says.

Raising money first requires tracking homeless services and resources, and building community awareness about the issue, he says.

To better understand their work, Wolf has met with officials of roughly 20 agencies that are part of the Homeless Services Network.

He also plans to create a web site that homeless people can use to find housing and services to help them become self-supporting.

The site will include data already collected by the Homeless Services Network that also will be aggregated as part of an effort by state government to track homeless services and resources throughout North Carolina.

Wolf is working with Paul Walker, who directs Access, the county’s mental health program for the homeless, to create a task force representing homeless agencies and big companies with technological expertise.

Wolf also plans to raise public awareness of homelessness through a media campaign, to be launched in late spring or early summer, that will include talks to local religious congregations and civic groups through a speakers bureau operated by Mecklenburg Ministries.

And he is working with the 11-member board of the Community Task Force on Homelessness to recruit corporate leaders for a new board for A Way Home.

A key task over the next 18 months, mirroring efforts in a growing number of U.S. cities, will be to develop a 10-year plan to end homelessness that is rooted in partnerships and sets goals that investors and donors can use to measure the plan’s impact.

“If we’re going to get people to give money,” Wolf says, “they’re going to have to understand why, what’s the outcome, what am I buying into, what am I investing in.”

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