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Charlotte thinks its found a way to help the homeless — by giving them housing for a year

Charlotte thinks its found a way to help the homeless — by giving them housing for a year

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CHARLOTTE — Some residents of what once was a downtown encampment for the homeless will have housing for at least a year, city officials announced this week.

City Council will allocate $2.1 million for one year of rent and utility subsidies for 75 households who lived in the encampment, and for social workers to connect them with employment, child care and health services.

County officials cleared the camps in February to address growing health and safety concerns.

The money, which comes from the first federal COVID-19 relief package passed last year, will be given to a trio of agencies tasked with overseeing the plan.

“The pandemic has really taught us that housing is health care — and it will remain true once it’s done. But for now it’s critically important that we keep that front and center,” said Kathryn Firmin-Sellers, chief impact officer for the United Way of Central Carolinas.

She said similar rehousing programs with individualized supportive services have been successful, giving her confidence that people will be able to stay housed after the 12-month subsidy ends.

Not everyone who lived in the encampment is covered by the new United Way-led program, city officials said. Of the 184 people evaluated, 75 were considered good candidates for the level of services provided through the program, said Shawn Heath, special assistant to the city manager.

The other 109 were determined to need “a higher level of service,” Heath said, adding that county leaders were “exploring opportunities” for those people.

In February, County Health Director Gibbie Harris issued a public health order to clear the North End encampment after inspectors identified a growing rat infestation and other hazards.

Some 200 people moved into motels that county officials paid for with federal relief funds for an initial 90-day period. But government officials, nonprofits and housing advocates have said permanent housing, not temporary shelter, is the ultimate goal.

Council member Braxton Winston said he was glad to see the city invest in people with some of the lowest incomes, as housing for those at or below 30% of the area median income is a consistent challenge. The pandemic and its related influx of federal funding give city leaders a unique opportunity, he said.

“In terms of the ability to have funds and try things that are out of the ordinary — because this is obviously an extraordinary experience — I would hope that my colleagues can see that, and we will kind of hone in on this work,” he said.

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