Meck County assesses people experiencing homelessness to direct help to them

Mecklenburg County leaders say they’re facing challenges when it comes to helping our neighbors on the streets, including gaps in shelter capacity, long-term housing solutions, and medical care.

Now, officials are working to find just how many people are experiencing homelessness so they know who needs help.

On Wednesday, the final prep work was underway before the county and dozens of volunteers took supplies like sleeping bags, hand warmers, and hats to the streets of Mecklenburg County. Erin Nixon with the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services said the items are donated by local groups to help anyone experiencing homelessness.

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Nixon and her team also led the Point-in-Time Count this week. It’s a yearly requirement from the federal government to determine how much money local governments get to put toward the issue.

Organizers counted anyone across the county’s six towns who don’t have permanent shelter.

“We want to be intentional, we want to be respectful of their home,” Nixon said.

More than 100 volunteers met along College Street in Uptown starting at 4:30 a.m. Thursday. They checked parks, parking garages, and even benches.

It’s the first time in three years the county has utilized outside help -- volunteers. Those volunteers tallied the number of people without permanent housing to get money to help.

“It is one of the activities HUD looks at to see how much funding Mecklenburg County needs to end this problem,” Nixon said.

County leaders are gauging how to help people in need now, as well as those who may come from the southern border of the country. Channel 9 has previously reported that county officials expect an influx of migrants if Title 42 is lifted. The policy allows the U.S. to turn migrants away to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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The Latin American Coalition plans to use $2 million in COVID-19 relief funds to increase services like housing.

“This is a proactive approach to not add to the homelessness challenge that we’re having,” said Jose Hernandez-Paris with the Latin American Coalition.

Once the county has a better idea just how many people need help, it will continue to work with outside groups to provide critical services. To start, Nixon said she needs landlords to accept housing vouchers for nearly 100 people on the street who don’t have anywhere to go.

“I believe personally that housing is a basic human right, and that we have the resources in our country to end homelessness,” Nixon said. “We just don’t have the political will to do that yet.”

Debbie O’Handley is the executive director for Hope House Foundation. She said the census helps her gauge how her organization can help.

“It helps us get our finger on the pulse of what’s happening,” O’Handley said. “It helps me personally to want to advocate and to really just sit and listen to our neighbors in need, of what resources they need and how we can really help them.”

The Latin American Coalition said it helped 60 immigrant families who crossed the southern border last year find work and places to stay. It says it’s committed to doing the same if Title 42 is lifted so the burden doesn’t fall solely on the county.

After Thursday’s count, the data collected will be combined, then presented to county commissioners and federal housing officials.

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