Urban Ministry Center aims to involve donors

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — During a campaign that raised $11.5 million for a new 85-unit apartment building that opened in January just north of uptown Charlotte and will provide permanent housing for chronically-homeless people, Urban Ministry Center was able to share with prospective donors the results of a pilot project that provided housing and supportive services for 14 people who were chronically homeless.

Two years after the pilot was launched in 2008, 86 percent of the residents still lived in the housing units, their health and income had improved, they were not using hospital emergency rooms for their health care but were connected to primary-care physicians, and they were not spending time in jail for petty crime.

“People would listen to us because we had a history in the community and a good reputation, but they would give us a contribution because we had the data to show the strategy works,” says Dale Mullennix, executive director of Urban Ministry Center.

“It’s not just enough to be a do-gooder,” he says. “We had to have the data to show we were working on a plan based on evidence that we had done a pilot project we could point to, to show the model works.”

Now, as the agency faces rising demand for services to the homeless, it is working to do a better job helping prospective donors understand the problem of homelessness in the community, getting them involved in the organization, and showing them how supporting the agency will help address the problem.

Urban Ministry Center, which opened in 1994, was formed by four uptown congregations that had been providing services to people who were homeless, including a soup kitchen and drop-in centers.

Operating with an annual budget of $1.9 million and a staff of about 25 people, the agency serves 500 to 600 people a day.

That includes 350 people a day who eat lunch at its soup kitchen, and others who visit the center, where they can pick up their mail, take a shower, do their laundry, or get a North Carolina identification card.

They also can talk to counselors about issues such as housing, food, clothing and jobs, or talk to a lawyer about submitting applications for disability benefits.

They can visit a clinic staffed by a nurse three days a week, and by doctors two Saturdays a month and Sunday nights during the winter.

The center also offers an emergency shelter, known as Room in the Inn, with local congregations, colleges and YMCA branches providing 120 to 200 beds a night.

The center offers a substance-abuse treatment program for 24 people at a time who live in two-bedroom apartments funded by Centro Bono, a local family foundation.

And it offers outreach programs for homeless people, including a soccer team; art, photography and gardening programs; gospel choir; and an advocacy program that helps homeless people learn about and speak on homelessness issues at city, county and state legislative meetings.

Urban Ministry Center counts on donations from individuals for nearly half its budget, but gets “leadership” gifts ranging from $12,000 to $15,000 from only about 10 to 15 individual donors a year.

Liz Peralta, who shares the job of development director with Lauren Cranford, says the agency is working to better understand what donors care about, and help them better understand the agency and its impact.

Cranford says that is important in a business community like Charlotte.

Donors “want solutions,” she says, “and they want facts and numbers to back up those solutions.”

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