- Associated Press - Monday, January 26, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - As Charlotte begins a two-year effort to end chronic homelessness, volunteers this week will conduct the most comprehensive survey ever done of people who live on the streets in the city.

The Charlotte Observer reports (https://bit.ly/15CerkF) that 250 volunteers will count homeless people over three days, Thursday through Saturday. They’ll search camps, shelters, jails, soup kitchens, hospitals and other places. Organizers are also asking the public for tips on locations of little known or new homeless camps.

About 2,000 to 4,000 people live on Charlotte’s streets, and leaders believe about 450 of them are chronically homeless, meaning they have no permanent place to live for years because of addictions, mental illness or both.

On Jan. 6, a group of Charlotte’s most influential institutions launched an $11 million plan, called Housing First Charlotte-Mecklenburg, to end chronic homelessness in Mecklenburg County by the end of 2016. Experts estimate each chronically homeless person costs local taxpayers an average of $40,000 annually, because of public dollars spent on time in courtrooms, jails and hospitals.

Nonprofit leaders such as Pam Jefsen of Supportive Housing Communities believe the survey will find chronically homeless people who were previously unknown.

“The reality is, if we are to end chronic homelessness and that is our goal we need to know who they are, where they are and how many there are,” said Jefsen, one of the organizers of the Point-in-Time Count. “I believe it is every human being’s right to have a safe place to sleep at night, and with the chronically homeless, it’s less expensive to put them in housing rather than have them sleeping on the streets.”

The city has had other homeless counts dating back to at least 1990 that lasted 24 hours and included about 100 volunteers. This count is aimed at finding out how many people stay on the streets for years because of addictions, mental illness or both.

The 250 volunteers all wearing yellow scarves will begin as early as 5 a.m. Thursday, visiting locations where homeless people are known to live or congregate.

Liz Clasen-Kelly of the Urban Ministry Center said the result will be more than just a count, she says. A registry will be created, showing which among the homeless are most vulnerable and in need of rapid housing.

“The reason we’re creating such a push this year is because we’ve never had this level of community resolve before to end chronic homelessness,” Clasen-Kelly said. “Our volunteers will carry a message of hope to these people.”


Information from: The Charlotte Observer, https://www.charlotteobserver.com

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