The recently merged Men’s Shelter of Charlotte and Urban Ministry Center (MSUMC) broke ground on a new emergency homeless shelter this week, a $4.4 million project that will replace the current shelter located on Statesville Avenue. Crews were able to begin construction this week after receiving a $1 million gift from the Howard R. Levine Foundation.
The new shelter construction is expected to take nine months, which puts its estimated finishing date at February 2021. It will replace the existing facility, which officials called “aging and inadequate” in a press release on Wednesday.
The old warehouse, which was converted for an emergency winter shelter in 2005, was designed as an overflow emergency homeless shelter to meet only the most basic needs — a place for men to stay warm, dry and clean. The current shelter operates in an open-dormitory style layout and has recently had to reduce capacity from 180 beds to 132 to achieve social distancing.
The new shelter will be designed not just to meet the basic needs of its guests, but also to help men emerge from homelessness with office space for on-site case management for housing and employment services, according to the release. The new facility will be around 15,000 square feet, nearly double the current 8,500-square-foot building, and will add a cooking kitchen, guest laundry services, a group room for classes and a mobile computer lab.
The new emergency homeless shelter will mimic the recently renovated North Tryon Street facility, with most beds in sleeping pods that staff says create a more private and distanced environment. Liz Clasen-Kelly, CEO of MSUMC, told Queen City Nerve on Thursday that, while developers are still in conversations about how to adapt plans for social distancing, she expects the final bed count to land somewhere between the 194 in the original plans and the 132 that the current facility holds.
“It’s very important to meet people’s basic needs, but one of the things we’ve learned in this pandemic: There’s just no substitute for home. So a lot of what we’re adding here are things that help us get folks out of homelessness and into housing — the one-on-one support that allows people to make that transition,” said Clasen-Kelly. “We’re very privileged to be able to provide the basics to people, but it’s no substitute for home. The new shelter design is about, how do we get more people homes and get them there faster?”
Queen City Nerve also learned that Mecklenburg County will open a 70-room motel next week to focus on housing a combination of folks who have existing shelter but are at risk due to a lack of social distancing and unsheltered homeless people who meet one or more of the Centers for Disease Control’s COVID-19 risk factors. It is the third social-distancing hotel opened by the county, with agencies such as MSUMC providing staffing and the county funding costs for the hotel, food, laundry and security.
In Wednesday’s release, Levine said he is enthusiastic about the new opportunities that the emergency homeless shelter will provide for men experiencing homelessness.
“Many of those served by the shelter are working in jobs making $8 or $9 hour, and there simply are not affordable places for them to live in our community,” Levine stated. “I am excited to invest in providing both stability and opportunity for people to take the next steps forward in their lives.”
Clasen-Kelly added that learning of Levine’s gift when she did, in the midst of the pandemic, was a much-needed respite from bad news.
“These last two months have been incredibly intense; we are being stretched, we’re having to rethink our operations. It is of course heartbreaking to remove beds from a facility even though we knew it was the right thing to do,” she said, “and then just to feel that support from the community — which we’ve felt that support in numerous ways — but for Howard Levine just to so enthusiastically say, ‘Yes, I want to support this,’ that takes us really to the finish line so we can offer the kind of dignity that we know we want to offer. It’s incredibly encouraging.”
The new emergency shelter will be named in Levine’s honor.
Latest estimates put Charlotte’s homeless population above 3,000 people. For more on what our homeless neighbors are dealing with on the ground, check out our recent cover story on homelessness and COVID-19, plus the latest episode of Nooze Hounds, featuring Stacy Phillips with Watchmen of the Streets and Connect Meck with Kindness.