When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the homeless community in Charlotte, many worried that services and shelters would dry up due to concerns about spreading the virus. The large encampment in Uptown that has become known as Tent City has been the focal point of many headlines in recent months, sparking discussions around shelter, services, housing and volunteer opportunities. Now as we approach winter, those same discussions continue while our neighbors without homes prepare for the most brutal season.
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In an email newsletter on Monday, Roof Above executive director Liz Clasen-Kelly announced some startling news: The organization will not be operating its annual Room in the Inn program or providing overflow mats at existing emergency shelters due to social distancing concerns. However, Clasen-Kelly clarified that the organization will partner with the Salvation Army Center of Hope (SACoH) to run a new emergency shelter for women and families, which are often served by Room in the Inn.
The location for this operation is not yet determined, but Clasen-Kelly expects the partnership will make available space for at least 100 women and family members. The Salvation Army Center of Hope will act as the operator of the shelter location and Roof Above will provide a role of support to the operation. Room in the Inn usually serves between 150-200 women and family members at 10-15 sites on any given night in the winter.
In May, Roof Above announced construction had begun on a new state-of-the-art emergency shelter on Statesville Avenue through a $1-million donation from the Howard R. Levine Foundation. At the time of the announcement, the existing Lucille Giles Center on Statesville had reduced bed capacity from 180 beds to 132 to achieve proper social distancing. The location ceased operations in July and began operating shelter services out of a motel to serve guests with COVID risk factors.
Clasen-Kelly said Roof Above plans to reopen the Lucille Giles Center on Dec. 1 while continuing to operate the motel.
“The reopening of the Giles Center will add 130 beds to our shelter system,” she wrote. “In addition, we can safely add 28 beds to our Tryon shelter and will extend the lease of our dorm shelter for working men through June,” the email reads.
Through these measures the organization plans to offer shelter to an average of 621 men per night compared to an average of 533 men per night in 2019.
In addition to these efforts, Roof Above will add outdoor warming stations to their Day Services Center to minimize crowding while residents wait for services.
Near the end of 2019, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Emergency Management Office (CMEMO) moved away from using a temperature threshold to determine when to open warming centers around the county. It used to be that a sustained wind chill of 10 degrees over 24 hours would be the tipping point of offering the essential service.
Now in partnership with a task force that includes homeless-service providers with the county, city and other nonprofits, CMEMO regularly tracks weather conditions and other factors to determine when to open the centers including partner impacts, 911 calls and shelter impacts.
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