Community Speaks Event Focuses on Homelessness

Collaboration was the theme this week, as area nonprofit and community leaders gathered at the Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont’s Leon Levin Opportunity Center to discuss the issue of homelessness in our community.

The panel discussion, called “Community Speaks” and organized by Beasley Media Group’s Power 98 and V101.9 stations, included representatives from A Child’s Place, City of Charlotte, Central Piedmont Community College, Loaves and Fishes, and Urban Ministry Center, in addition to The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte.

This was the second “Community Speaks” event; other upcoming events will address the topics of domestic violence and overcoming your past and reentering society after a conviction.

The discussion on homelessness began with each agency speaking briefly about the role it plays in addressing the issue of homelessness. Following the introductions, audience members asked important questions and participating in a lively discussion surrounding the issue of homelessness and covering a range of topics from affordable housing to access to social services.

Deronda Metz, director of social services for The Salvation Army, spoke of the success being seen at the Center of Hope in sheltering homeless families, but the biggest challenge being access to affordable housing to move families out of the shelter. “Our biggest job is getting homeless women and children off the street and into housing,” she said. “We still have some work to do.”

Panelists agreed that access to affordable housing was a key issue in our community.

“There is no single cause of homelessness,” said Caroline Chambre Hammock, associate executive director for Urban Ministry Center. “But, housing is the cure. We can have conversations about ‘why,’ but we know the cure, so we can discuss ‘how.’”

Solutions are there, but everyone agreed it begins with education throughout the community.

“We have room to grow in partnering with city leaders, neighborhood leaders,” said Pamela Wideman, deputy director of the City of Charlotte’s Neighborhood & Business Services. “We have to educate people on the issues of affordable housing and homelessness in general.”

Hammock agreed. “We have to understand that we are all in need of something. We are the same in many ways. We have to have education in our community so that it’s no longer us versus them. We are all in this together.”

Tina Postel with Loaves and Fishes added, “Asking for help is hard. We have to treat people with dignity and respect so it makes it easier to ask.”

While many solutions were discussed, the key running through the room was collaboration. The organizations represented on the panel have a long history of working together to support each other and offer solutions to the problem of homelessness.

And, while not widely and continually reported, those efforts are making a difference.

“As Charlotte’s population continues to grow, fortunately the homeless rate isn’t growing at the rate of the city,” said Metz. In fact, according to the most recent Point in Time Homeless Count on Jan. 27, 2016, the number of homeless individuals decreased 9% over last year and 36% over a five-year period.

“We’ve come a long way since the early 1990s. It takes all of us working together. None of us can do it alone.”

And, there’s still work to do.

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