United Family Services turning 100

Mark Pierman
Mark Pierman

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 1979, to address the needs of domestic-violence victims, United Family Services opened a 33-bed shelter for battered women.

Now, with more people living in Charlotte and domestic violence on the rise, the agency has launched the quiet phase of a campaign to raise $10 million for a new 80-bed shelter.

“The role of the agency in this community has really been as a catalyst for addressing community needs,” says Marc Pierman, its CEO.

Formed in 1909 by 100 religious and business leaders who each pledged $25 a year, United Family Services marks its anniversary on March 21 and will host a Centennial Gala on Nov. 7 at the Westin Hotel.

The agency focuses its services on addressing the shorter-term needs of people facing physical, emotional or financial crisis.

It operates with a staff of 110 employees and serves over 60,000 people a year at six sites, including its main office, its shelter, a domestic-violence and victim-assistance program, and offices in Monroe, Concord and Cornelius.

It also has seen big increases in demand for services because of the recession.

The number of clients seeking mortgage-foreclosure counseling, for example, has “jumped through the roof,” Pierman says.

The number of adults age 62 or older turning to the agency to help them secure “reverse mortgages,” in which homeowners can tap their equity in the form of monthly payments they can use to meet expenses, has doubled over the last year.

And counselors at the agency are seeing more clients with family problems, many of them stemming from the deterioriating economy.

“We’re seeing a lot of families under stress,” Pierman says.

“It’s all tied in terms of what happens when you have a financial crisis,” he says. “It tends to shake the stability of the family.”

United Family Services also has seen a surge in demand for beds at its shelter for battered women.

“We’re pretty much full every night,” he says.

In 2008, in addition to filling the beds at the shelter, the agency was providing clients with 150 beds a month, on average, at local hotels.

Yet it still turns away over 2,000 clients a year, he says.

Pierman says the size of the shelter, now 30 years old, has not kept pace with the growth of the community.

“You can see the disparity between our capacity and demand for services,” he says.

The economic crisis is also taking its toll on the agency’s funding.

Funding from United Way of Central Carolinas, which accounts for 25 percent of the agency’s income, compared to 30 percent when Pierman joined the agency nine years ago, is expected to fall dramatically after United Way fell far short of the goal in its annual drive last fall.

“I am projecting we’ll take at least a 30 percent cut,” Pierman says. “It could be more.”

In the face of the economic crunch, United Family Services is looking for efficiencies and partnerships.

In January, for example, it launched a joint human-resources system with five other agencies housed in the Children & Family Services Center, and in April the six agencies will combine their finance system.

The agency also has hired a part-time lawyer who, working with volunteer lawyers and law students, will provide legal representation for women when they go to court seeking restraining orders.

And for its new shelter, the agency is talking with the Charlotte Rescue Mission about purchasing part of the site the Rescue Mission purchased on West Boulevard
to house its new facility that will replace Dove’s Nest, an in-patient substance-abuse treatment center for women.

Building both facilities on the same site at the same time could save on development costs and, later, on operating costs such as maintenance, security and food services.

Co-chaired by Crandall Bowles, former CEO of Springs Industries, and Jennifer Roberts, chair of the Mecklenburg County Commission, the capital campaign for the new shelter will kick off its public phase this fall.

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