Helping Homeless With Housing + Support
Billy Riley the bedroom of his new apartment at Moore Place. Photo by: Julie Rose "Supportive Housing" is a new catch-phrase in Charlotte. It means affordable housing that comes with a full menu of social work, counseling and treatment services. Many have come to see it as the answer to Charlotte's homeless population, which has grown to more than 6,000. So the city and county have issued a request for proposals to spur new supportive housing projects. To date only a few exist in the city and they're relatively new. One called Moore Place just opened last week, and that's where WFAE begins the first of a two-part series. SEARCHING FOR BILLY RILEY For the entire week leading up to moving day, staff at the Moore Place apartment complex couldn't find Billy Riley. They knew the 54-year-old had been homeless since 2008. They knew he'd been turned away from the men's shelter because of a health condition. They also knew he'd spent a week in the hospital recently - and could easily end up back there. But they checked and he wasn't. They checked to see if he'd gotten arrested. He wasn't at the jail. Caroline Chambre, housing services director for the Urban Ministry which includes the 85 tiny apartments of Moore Place, finally found Riley in line at one of the churches that offer emergency shelter. "And before I even said, 'I want to make sure you know about tomorrow,' he said, 'I'm moving into Moore Place tomorrow.' And his whole face lit up," says Chambre. OUT OF "CRISIS MODE" Billy Riley was chosen to be one of the first occupants of Moore Place because he's chronically homeless and extremely vulnerable to dying on the street. When doctors removed a tumor on his spine several years ago, the nerve damage left him reliant on a catheter and prone to infection. Other Moore Place residents have mental health conditions and substance abuse problems. They're a constant presence at the shelter, the jail and the ER, says Chambre. Her goal is to get someone into housing and out of "crisis mode." "We want to get them into a place where it's safe, it's stable, there's support in place, wrapped around them," says Chambre. "And then that person is in a better place to work on the issues that may have caused their homelessness or contributed to their long-time homelessness." The support at Moore Place includes a full-time nurse and part-time psychiatrist funded through grants as well as five social workers paid by Mecklenburg County. Another development called McCreesh Place has offered similar support for homeless men in Charlotte since 2003, but residents are required to be sober and have a source of income. Billy Riley says he's been clean for two years, but he has no money, no assets and no job, so it's a huge deal for him to be sitting at this conference table at Moore Place. Moore Place assistant director of operations Stephen McQueen walks Riley through the details of his lease and the rules. Visitors have to check in at 24-hour security desk. No drugs on the property and no alcohol outside of your apartment. It's standard "good neighbor" stuff, says McQueen. He pauses briefly and says to Riley, "I'm probably going too fast." "No!" says Riley. "Keep going - the faster I can get this paper work done, the faster I can get upstairs!" At last, it's time to sign the lease. SAVING TAXPAYERS MONEY Moore Place is subsidized by a combination of federal housing funds, local government money and private donations. If Riley gets a job - or qualifies for disability payments instead - he'll pay 30 percent of his monthly income as rent. The Urban Ministry Center raised a $10 million endowment to support long-term operations ($6 million of that covered construction and $4 millian is for long-term operations.) The total cost to house Riley and the other 84 residents of Moore Place? A little over $15,000 per person per year. That's less than half what taxpayers spend on jail time, shelter stays and hospital visits for a chronically homeless person in Charlotte, according to an Urban Ministry Center study of its own clients. Billy Riley now has a key in hand. Standing in front of Apartment 216, he wrestles with the lock a moment. He's eager to get inside the small studio furnished with the basics - bed, desk, couch, TV, small kitchen. Riley makes a beeline for the bathroom. "My own shower! Don't have to get out of the shower until I burn up!" he says, thinking about the timer and lack of hot water at the Urban Ministry Center where he's been showering. Then he turns to the closet. "I want to put a shelf in here for my books," he explains. Riley has a pile of textbooks from the green systems technology program he just finished at CPCC. He worked as an electrician and mechanic until the recession hit in 2008. He'd grown up in foster care and his adoptive parents were long dead. With nothing to fall back on, Riley landed on the street. He started doing cocaine and his health spiraled down. Now he says he's clean and church-going. "And the peoples now that are getting these apartments - God has given them a second chance," says Riley. "This is where their test is at, and it's up to them." With a full-time nurse on hand to help manage his medical problems and a social worker to help him stay on track, Riley thinks it won't be long before he's able to start paying for a little of what he's being given. Thursday on Morning Edition from 6:00 to 9:00 a.m., we'll look at other supportive housing projects in Charlotte and find out how the city and county are on an aggressive new path to create more.