CHARLOTTE, N.C. A charity program created to help poor families faced with skyrocketing motel rates has emerged as one of the success stories of Charlotte’s hosting of the Democratic National Convention.

The Convention Housing Assistance Initiative helped 32 families and 192 individuals (308 people in all) displaced during the convention, and got international news coverage in the process.

Organizers say the initiative has also given local charities an emergency housing template that can be recreated at a moment’s notice for big events in the future, “both planned and unplanned,” said Annabelle Suddreth, whose charity A Child’s Place was among the initiative participants.

Nearly 800 beds were available over eight days through the housing initiative, which included the participation of about 36 congregations. It also had a pool of $20,000 in donated money to help qualified families pay higher motel rates that were deemed reasonable.

Among the unreasonable: An extended-stay motel that raised rates to $299 a night, Suddreth said. However, many others pledged not to raise rates, which could be why turnout was lower than expected for the initiative, she said.

“We’re pleased that the numbers weren’t as high as we feared,” Suddreth said. “The goal of the program was to keep children and families stable during the convention, and we succeeded. We wanted them as safe and impacted as little as possible.”

Darren Ash of Charlotte Family Housing was among the organizers and admits being surprised at how journalists from around the country called for stories on the initiative. Even a Swiss reporter called, he said.

“This started as a quiet attempt to deal with the issue of families getting notices (of increased hotel rates), but it turned into every news agency in the country beating down our doors,” Ash said.
“We created a system using our biggest strengths in this community: The generosity of our volunteers and our faith community, which opened its doors for a week to the homeless.”

In addition to A Child’s Place and Charlotte Family Housing, the program was supported by the Salvation Army Center of Hope, the county’s Community Support Services and the Urban Ministry Center, which recruited about 36 congregations to host the homeless through its Room in the Inn program.

The Center of Hope also volunteered to host extra families for the week, and ended up taking in 12 households (about 43 people), including some single fathers who had been raising their children in hotels.

Deronda Metz of the Center of Hope said another benefit of the housing initiative is that some of the families are going to be able to move out of motels and into homes. Both Charlotte Family Housing and the Center of Hope found families among the 308 people that are qualified for housing programs.

Metz said two of the families are moving into housing this week, while three others are in a transition period, staying temporarily in motels until a space becomes available.

It’s common for low-income families living in motels to end up in shelters when their money runs out, officials said. A survey by A Child’s Place found that 170 of the homeless families it served last year had lived in a motel at some point during that year.

“One of the things I wanted to try to find out from these people is why someone would choose to live in a hotel versus an apartment,” Metz said. “I wanted to meet these families and let them know the resources that exist in the community to help them. And we’re connecting them to those programs.”

Coincidentally, the DNC also helped local charities by donating 8,000 pounds of food left over from the canceled event at Bank of America Stadium.

Second Harvest Food Bank received most of the food Friday, which it redistributed to shelters and soup kitchens. The Men’s Shelter of Charlotte said it also received hundreds of additional meals from three other DNC related events last week.

And on Monday, Habitat for Humanity learned that it was being given all the carpeting and building materials used to create the convention centerpiece at Time Warner Cable Arena. The materials will be redistributed to seven area Restores, officials said.

“People can own a piece of Charlotte’s historic moment,” said Phil Prince, a spokesman for Habitat for Humanity. “There’s no telling who walked on this carpeting: Celebrities, big politicians, the president. If somebody is looking to carpet a playroom, that’s neat to do it with a piece of history.”

From The Charlotte Observer, Sept. 10, 2012

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