For over a year, every emergency shelter in Charlotte-Mecklenburg has been full.

Of course, every day, people leave our shelters to move into housing options, which we celebrate, but there are always more people than beds waiting at the front door.  The heart feels this the heaviest when the temperatures drop.  We know people are sleeping in the cars and outside in dangerously cold temperatures, because our shelters do not have room.

The most obvious solution is to build more shelter.  That is also the most expensive solution.  So, our community has been tackling our capacity challenges by focusing on the back door (moving people out into housing as soon as possible) as well as the front door.

For the front door, Charlotte-Mecklenburg uses an intervention called “diversion.”  Every person is screened before they come into shelter to see if there is another available housing solution.  This can take many forms.  A man might have an aunt in Florida he could stay with, but he has no way to get there so we provide the bus ticket.  A young adult might be able to move in with family or friends, if she is able to provide some financial assistance, so we pay the family’s light bill and connect the young adult to job-finding assistance.

Generally, these housing alternatives play a similar role as emergency shelter: a safe place for a few weeks or months until someone gets back on their feet.

When diversion works, it keeps a bed in emergency shelter open for the next person in line.  Based on recent data compiled by Mecklenburg County, diversion programs increased the community’s emergency shelter capacity by 8%.

Beginning December 2017, Charlotte-Mecklenburg is adding to the diversion work with an innovation called “delayed diversion.”  It is a mix between focusing on the front door and the back door.  After someone has been in the shelter for fourteen days, there will be a second diversion screening to identify a housing alternative that would allow someone to quickly exit the shelter.

Our hypothesis is that there are households that will identify a housing alternative at fourteen days, which they do not identify upon entering the shelter.  We believe fourteen days is long enough for households to recognize the challenges of living in an emergency shelter, while short enough that they are not fully acclimated to the routines of the shelter.

Because we are testing our hypothesis through this innovation, we are grateful to the Mecklenburg County Community Support Services for becoming our evaluation partner in this work. Community Support Services will measure not just the impact of delayed diversion on shelter capacity, but in addition will follow-up with each household served to see if those served remain out of homelessness.

The Men’s Shelter of Charlotte will be the first partner to implement delayed diversion, with plans for the Salvation Army Center of Hope to follow.


The fight to end homelessness continues.  Emergency shelter providers feel the responsibility to be as creative as possible and ensure every shelter bed is used to the best of its capability.

Delayed diversion is one more way we are trying to ensure beds will be available when people come to our front door.

Liz Clasen-Kelly has worked to end homelessness for two decades. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, embracing a low-barrier, Housing First approach. Previously, she oversaw the community’s street outreach efforts and served as a project manager for the community effort to end chronic homelessness.