Change for homeless in works

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Two years ago, to better meet demand as the length of the average stay in its 14-bed shelter for homeless families continued to grow Charlotte Emergency Housing considered a possible campaign to raise $1.5 million to buy and renovate 20 houses for its clients.

But with the emergence of WISH, a new collaborative initiative to match homeless or working-poor families with children with vacant apartments and link them with support services and rent subsidies, the agency is helping to pilot the new effort.

“WISH will bring our length of stay down and increase the number of families we can serve,” says Cindy Martin, development director.

And to help raise awareness about homelessness while also raising more money to help cover its annual operating budget of $926,000, Martin says, Charlotte Emergency Housing this fall will launch its first “Harvest of Change,” asking students to bring spare change to collection containers in their schools.

That effort aims to enlist at least 50 schools and raise at least $50,000, Martin says.

At Plaza Place, the shelter it built in 1991, Charlotte Emergency Housing serves homeless families and single women, and operates a child-care center for up to 12 children through age 12.

With a staff of 11 employees working full-time and nine working part-time, the agency served 43 families, or 151 individuals, in the fiscal year ended June 30.

With the average stay in the shelter growing to 129 days, up from 122 days just two years ago, the number of clients the agency serves has been declining. Martin says.

But WISH, or the Workforce Initiative for Supportive Housing, should help reverse that decline and provide support for families and individuals once they have found stable footing at Charlotte Emergency Housing, Martin says.

“We provide short-term services,” she says. “The new services will be ongoing.”

Headed by Darren Ash, former principal of Apartment Realty Advisors, WISH is a program of A Way Home and works in partnership with Crisis Assistance Ministry and Lutheran Family Services.

Families accepted in the program are placed in vacant apartments, and receive stipends and intensive case-management and supportive services.

With funds housed at Foundation for the Carolinas, WISH has raised $1 million and aims to raise $2 million more for its pilot program, which will serve 100 families, Ash says.

Lutheran Family Services provides support services for families and also connects them with other agencies that focus on needs such as food or health.

In the email newsletter it will distribute to all schools on July 30, the central office of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will include an item on Harvest for Change.

All schools in the system, as well as independent and charter schools, also will receive a letter and phone call about the drive.

Each participating school will receive a plaque listing how much it raised, and Charlotte Emergency Housing will treat the school that raises the most per student to an ice-cream party.

In addition to raising money and awareness to address homelessness, Martin says, the drive aims to give the schools “a way to promote community philanthropy.”

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