For the second year in a row, Charlotte saw a double-digit jump in homeless families – 21 percent – and experts predict a continued rise in 2012.

While the numbers are down from last year’s 36 percent increase, it still makes for a nearly 60 percent increase in homeless families since 2009, according to a report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

That report, issued this month, used state and local data supplied by 29 cities across the United States, and found an overall 16 percent increase in homeless families. (Charleston, S.C., had the highest increase among the 29 cities, at 150 percent.)

“Charlotte is a prosperous community, so whether it’s a couple of hundred homeless families living on the street or just one, that should be unacceptable,” said Carson Dean of the community’s Homeless Services Network and executive director of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte.

Among the observations made about Charlotte in the survey is that the city had a 10 percent shortage of beds for the homeless. However, that shortage appears to be just for women since the men’s shelter has a “no turn-away policy” at this time.

Deronda Metz of the Center of Hope shelter for women and children said she definitely has had “a few days” this year when she turned homeless women away due to a lack of space.

The center has 224 beds, but is currently helping 400 people a night, including some bused to community churches for the night.

Space is at such a premium that the shelter instituted a policy this past summer that allows women from outside the county to stay no more than two weeks while other arrangements are made. The exception is women escaping domestic violence, Metz said.

“We were hoping to get the word out across the country that someone’s plan to make this shelter their center of relocation is not going to work,” Metz said. “We found that 25 percent of the people we were serving were from outside the area. They are trying to go wherever they can to get help. It’s instinct.”

The women’s shelter has been whittling down the number of homeless families by moving them into apartments, supported through a partnership with the Charlotte Housing Authority.

In addition, the newly unveiled nonprofit Charlotte Family Housing is moving ahead with programs that stabilize homeless families and move them into shelters and apartments.

Homelessness on the rise

The Homeless Research Institute has predicted that the nation as a whole will see a 5 percent increase in homelessness over the next three years, or about 73,000 people.

It’s estimated Charlotte has a homeless population of more than 6,000, including those in shelters, camps, hotels and doubled up in homes with friends of family.

One area of dispute in the Conference of Mayors report is that Charlotte had a 10 percent drop in homeless individuals this past year.

Local officials credit that to data from a homeless count earlier this year, which found 1,953 homeless people, compared to 2,151 the year before.

However, local officials said that annual count is a “one-night snapshot” and can vary depending on the weather and other factors.

Meanwhile, the men’s shelter sees an average of 585 men a night, compared to 540 a night a year ago, Dean said.

Even more telling, he said, is that 561 of the men helped this year were new to the shelter.

“I think we’ll continue to see an increase in homelessness until hiring comes back in basic jobs like construction, landscaping and warehouse work,” he said. “Maybe that’s the silver lining of the (Democratic National Convention) coming here. In the next six months, folks will have to hire a lot of catering, construction and moving staff, and that could be the stimulus we need to get some of the homeless back on their feet.”

Men able to work

The men’s shelter did its own survey recently that found many of the men it houses are viable candidates for such work.

Of the 100 men surveyed, the average age was 47, most had lived in Charlotte about 11 years, and 70 percent had a high school education or above. That includes 14 percent who were college graduates.

Ten percent of the men staying at the shelter actually had jobs but didn’t earn enough to afford a home, while 34 percent were disabled.

Most had been homeless about two years. Sixty percent had some kind of criminal record, including at least one arrest while they were homeless. The most common charge was drug- or alcohol-related, respondents said in the survey.

Of those arrested, 17 percent said mental illness played a role in their arrest.

Price: 704-358-5245

The Charlotte Observer

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