News & Opinion

Block Love Charlotte Expands Offerings with New Day Services Center

Upcoming fundraiser scheduled with funds tight for beloved organization

Inside Block Love Charlotte's new Day Services Center.
Inside Block Love Charlotte’s new Day Services Center. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Deborah Phillips knows what it’s like to need help.

There was a time in her past when Phillips was forced to flee a domestic violence situation with her son and her dog, all of whom slept in a van for a few nights until they could find a room that would accept the pet.

Then there was the time when she was facing eviction and a local church promised to put her up, only to then stop answering phone calls when she needed to take them up on the offer. In that case, a cousin stepped up at the last minute and paid enough back rent to keep her and her kids housed.

These experiences helped turn Phillips, founder of Block Love Charlotte, into the crusading warrior she is today, always willing to help a neighbor in need.

“It’s like, if there’s a need, I just want to meet that need. I can’t see someone having a need and somebody telling them no,” she explains. “I’ve been there and it’s hurtful.”

Deborah Phillips in Susan's Reading Nook, a corner of Block Love Charlotte's new Day Services Center
Deborah Phillips in Susan’s Reading Nook, a corner of Block Love Charlotte’s new Day Services Center. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Phillips is sitting in Susan’s Reading Corner, a nook tucked away at the Block Love Charlotte Day Services Center, which celebrated its grand opening on April 20. The corner is named for Susan Dillehay, a member of the Block Love family who was tragically stabbed to death in Uptown in March.

“I tell everybody, anybody that we serve, even if it’s just for a day, that’s family,” says Phillips. “We’re hoping everything that we do seals a bond or a connection. But those that we lost, that’s another thing, people don’t get to see that side.”

A new chapter for Block Love Charlotte

Though Phillips and the Block Love team moved into the space located at the corner of Colorado Avenue and North Graham Street in the summer of 2022, this spring’s grand opening marked a new chapter for the organization, which began as a meal service for people struggling with homelessness and has over time become an organization that offers wrap-around services.

Now members of the Block Love family can drop by the center to take part in free grocery giveaways, request clothing items, access the internet, take part in workforce development, seek help in the search for housing, access health care during regular site visits from Care Ring’s mobile unit and receive services from a number of other partner organizations.

“We’ve always had that need to express to people that we do more than just serve meals,” says Phillips. “I know what they see on our social media, but it’s not always easy to convey to people that we do more than meals, we do more than tents and sleeping bags. Just about everything that we’re now providing in this space, we have been providing in the streets … Being in this space and knowing that now it is tangible, they can actually visibly see it.”

Phillips began Block Love Charlotte as a weekly dinner service on “The Block” at Phifer Avenue between North College and North Tryon streets in Uptown in 2018. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with services for folks struggling with homelessness drying up, Phillips and her team began visiting The Block nightly.

As they became more in tune with the needs of the community, they began offering more than food, providing folks with everything from needed daily hygiene items to clothing, tents and any number of other necessities.

They’ve also partnered with government agencies and other nonprofits around the city to help with urgent housing needs, either saving people from evictions or working to find them emergency housing in a motel or similar place in a time of desperation. The organization’s grocery giveaways service all members of the community, some of whom may just need some relief from the pinch of inflation.

Block Love Charlotte operations manager Tobin ‘Murph’ Murphy works a recent grocery giveaway event at the new Day Services Center. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Jonathan Goggins is one Block Love family member who has gone from client to part-time employee. He helps Phillips during nightly meal service on The Block and with grocery giveaways at the Day Services Center, among other things.

After falling victim to multiple robberies including a home invasion at his former home in Grier Heights, Goggins packed up and left. With an abandonment on his housing record, however, it was nearly impossible to find a new place for rent.

He found himself hanging out at Tent City, a large encampment that sprang up along 12th Street near the Urban Ministry Center during the pandemic, though he says he never slept there.

Charlotte newcomer's guide
Murphy delivers food to community members at Tent City in 2020. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Nevertheless, without a consistent place to stay, Goggins hopped at the chance to join the dozens of people living along 12th Street who were moved into a motel near the airport in February 2021. That’s where he met Phillips, who was brought on to run operations at the hotel.

“She basically got to a point where she was coming out of her own pocket to pay for everything,” Goggins remembers. “That really took me back, because normally when you’re dealing with a nonprofit, if they run out of funding, they just run out of funding. They’re not coming out of their own pocket to do nothing. She’s different.”

Over the last three years, Phillips has helped Goggins access health care as he fights glioblastoma, helped him stay employed after he was fired from Family Dollar for accepting a $100 bill.

A bank of computers at Block Love Charlotte’s Day Services Center. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Finally, she helped him secure stable housing at The Gaston at North End, an apartment complex run by Inlivian at the former site of Dillehay Courts, in walking distance to Block Love’s new Day Services Center.

“Even if it wasn’t for the money, I’d still work here,” Goggins says of Block Love Charlotte. “[Phillips] has more of a grassroots mentality. She has the same heart that I do. I love that about her. She’s always giving, regardless of what’s going on, always giving.”

Fundraisers and budget talks

In order to continue giving, Block Love Charlotte needs to be on the receiving end sometimes. After opening the new Day Services Center, the organization set its eyes on expansion, with hopes to raise $500,000 to help renovate the suite next to the center, where they can host more immersive programming like workforce development, audio and visual media training, and a barber shop that would offer free haircuts as well as an academy for aspiring stylists, among other ideas.

At the time of this writing, Charlotte City Council has proposed a $230,000 allocation for Block Love Charlotte to be included in its Fiscal Year 2025 budget, which would match its FY 2024 funding.

Because it was not included in the budget originally proposed by the city manager but rather recommended as an addendum after the fact, council will still need to vote on the recommendation at a special meeting on May 30 before voting to approve the full budget in June.

Deborah Phillips aboard the Care Ring mobile unit that often visits her organization’s property to offer free health care to members of the community. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

While the city funding is helpful, Phillips points out that it is restricted to line items listed in the organization’s budget request, which means it can’t be used on bills for the center or emergency operations needed outside of the city, when the organization is called on to help folks in desperate situations outside of Charlotte city limits.

“When we see how fast we’re rolling through these dollars, some days I get nervous,” says Phillips. “Our unrestricted funds bucket right now looks like a wading pool; it’s very shallow water. We need to bring that up, because at the end of the day, we’ve still got bills to pay, which isn’t included in this restricted funding.

“If I got somebody that says, ‘Hey, I’ve seen some folks sleeping outside in Rock Hill. I don’t know what to do with them. Mom’s got this baby. I hear them crying,’ I can’t tell them no. With unrestricted funds, I can at least put them in a room until I can get connected to resources in Rock Hill or Cabarrus County or Gaston County,” she continued. “But we’re so low on unrestricted funds. Right now, it’s at the point where it’s heartbreaking.”

On June 9, Block Love Charlotte will host one of its most beloved fundraisers: the annual BLC Community Car Show, which will see dozens of souped-up luxury cars on display in the parking lot of the Day Services Center. The event will also feature food trucks, games for children, vendor tents from partnering agencies and organizations and more.

“We make it family-oriented,” says Phillip. “Not saying other car shows don’t, but trust me, I have sat in that hot sun and baked with nothing to do. No, you’re going to have things to do.”

Be it during events or on a random weekday afternoon, Phillips emphasizes that the Day Services Center is meant to be a safe space, regardless of anyone’s situation, struggle, or whatever they might feel judged or stigmatized by elsewhere.

Community members peruse options at a recent grocery giveaway at the Block Love Charlotte Day Services Center. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

For her, it’s all about continuing to build the Block Love family.

“We want to make it a community environment,” she says. “I don’t like hearing ‘they, them, those people.’ It’s not ‘those people.’ It’s us … Why would you not help us? It’s not always rainbows and perfect endings. You might not even get a thank you, or you may get a thank you one day and cussed out the next. But be there, show up for somebody. We do that consistently.”

Block Love Charlotte will host a fish fry and outdoor movie screening on May 31 and a ‘Born This Way’ LGBTQ panel discussion on June 5. Check out the organization’s full event calendar here.

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