Nonprofit and government agencies serving the homeless population in Charlotte have quietly accelerated their efforts in the last three months – aiming to house 100 people in 100 days. They exceeded that goal.
Prior to May, the average number of homeless people winding their way through various bureaucracies to find housing in Charlotte was 14. But the monthly figure has since more than tripled to around 45.
"We were really shocked that we housed as many people as we did. Because we're like, how did that happen?" says Janetta Lambert, housing readiness coordinator for the Urban Ministry Center, one of many local groups that collaborated with the Charlotte Housing Authority, city, county and federal agencies on a goal to house 100 chronically homeless people in 100 days.
That goal itself was the trick, says Pam Jefsen of Supportive Housing Communities.
"I can't stress enough the whole idea of a group of really committed people having a big goal," says Jefsen.
Without any additional resources, the agencies were able to quickly house 162 of the region's most vulnerable homeless people – many of them veterans – who had been without housing for at least a year. In each case, the individuals receive long-term counseling and case management support.
Homeless support agencies met weekly to streamline their efforts. They raised funds to help pay for rent application fees many landlords charge. They organized a ministry to furnish apartments and help residents move in.
Mecklenburg County homeless services director Peter Safir says all those little things added up to a real breakthrough after years of talking about ending homelessness, but making little progress.
"As a result of this experience and far exceeding the goal that we set – which was a stretch goal – I have completely rethought my position," says Safir. "I now think it's possible this community will be able to end chronic homelessness in the next couple of years. And previously I thought it was not going to be possible."
That will mean finding permanent housing and support services for several hundred more people by the end of 2015. The challenge will be maintaining the momentum of these last 100 days.