Men’s shelter works to meet rising demand

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — At its shelters on North Tryon Street and Statesville Avenue, the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte has housed 589 men a night, on average, in the fiscal year that began July 1, 2011.

Mainly reflecting the impact of the troubled economy, demand for emergency beds has grown from 540 a night the previous fiscal year, and 505 a night the year before that, says Carson Dean, the agency’s executive director.

Yet for the current fiscal year, the organization’s annual budget has declined by $500,000 to $2.7 million.

Still, the agency is looking for ways to expand and stepped up its efforts to secure larger gifts from individuals.

Formed in October 2009 through the merger of the Emergency Winter Shelter and the Uptown Shelter, the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte is the community’s only emergency shelter for men.

The shelter operates with a staff of 40 people working full-time and 13 working part-time, and over 2,500 volunteers, mainly from over 100 congregations.

In addition to a place to sleep, the emergency shelters on Tryon Street and Statesville Avenue provide emergency food and clothing.

The agency also offers programs in the areas of homeless prevention and outreach, supportive services, and “continuing-care” housing.

Agency representatives, for example, patrol the streets looking for people who may need services and shelter.

The agency also partners with dozens of local organizations to provide a range of services for homeless people.

Those include medical and health clinics and treatment for substance abuse and mental health.

“We’re an emergency shelter,” Dean says, “but we do a lot more.”

Three days a week, for example, C.W. Williams Community Health Care, a nonprofit that provides free medical care to low-income and homeless people, operates a three-hour clinic at the shelter each day, seeing about 100 men a week.

The housing program provides “medical respite” in partnership with hospitals to ensure that homeless people who are discharged do not end up on the street.

Instead, for a two-week recovery period, patients are discharged directly to the Men’s Shelter, which helps schedule follow-up appointments with physicians, helps get clients medications they need, and arranges for home-health-care visits to the shelter if needed.

The agency also works to help men moving out of its shelter find longer-term housing, often in their own apartment, or in a long-term recovery program or veterans’ group home.

Launched in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010, that program served 125 men its first year and 309 men last year, and is on track to serve 400 men this year.

And the agency aims within several years to move 500 men a year to longer-term housing, thanks to a two-year, $200,000 “Neighborhood Builders” grant from Bank of America.

It also is working in a partnership that includes half-a-dozen homeless groups, including with Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte and its Center of Hope shelter for homeless women and children, to develop and launch this spring a voucher program to let homeless families stay in area motels.

To fund its growth, the Charlotte Men’s Shelter has expanded its fundraising staff and is working to help donors better understand the problem of homelessness and the role the agency plays, and get them more involved in its work.

“It’s about building relationships,” Dean says.

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