Photo taken by Peter Safir


A coworker of mine recently went through a harrowing experience with her family while wrapping up a family vacation out of the country. They spent two weeks snorkeling, hiking, and enjoying the beauty of the country, making wonderful memories to enjoy together for years to come.

Packed and ready to head home, they were stopped at the airport by the most unexpected tragedy.

My coworker’s husband had been short of breath that morning, but nothing that the family was concerned about. While preparing to board the plane home, however, his breathing became more difficult. It was apparent that something was terribly wrong. They had a choice to make: should they board the plane and hope to make it back to where they can speak the language fluently and know the medical system; or stay and trust that he would receive the care he needs? As it turned out, the decision was made for them. Boarding that plane – at that moment – would likely have killed him.

The next four days were traumatic. In intensive care and on life support, the prognosis was uncertain. My coworker, frightened and thousands of miles from home, stayed by her husband’s side and attempted to navigate the language barriers and foreign health system. Initially, an air medevac seemed out of the question because of the instability of her husband’s condition. But, over time they discovered that if he did not leave he was going to die. She finally secured a medevac flight out of the country so that her husband could receive open heart surgery, which saved his life.

This remarkable story includes a team of people who responded to a stranger’s crisis with compassion, expertise, concern and efficiency.

Returning from a previous mission – tired and ready to go home – the medevac crew went beyond what was required and stayed, performing the painstaking work to quickly disconnect and reconnect her husband to the life support that would keep him alive in transit. My coworker describes the care from this team as “worth a million dollars.”


In January, I participated in the Point-in-Time Count, volunteering for several early evening shifts at the Salvation Army Center of Hope and a 5am shift visiting homeless camps in the Northlake – University area on February 1.

During my shifts completing surveys, I met a woman in the shelter who is a self-published author and has a full-time job, but can’t find affordable housing because of evictions on her record. I talked later with an individual facing homelessness and looking for assistance to keep her housing. The home she has been living in for 8 years in a rapidly changing neighborhood along the Blue Line Extension is being demolished to make way for new development. She and her 10-year old child are facing homelessness because she cannot find new housing that she can afford, even with a government voucher to help with the monthly rent expense.

I also met a single mom working by day in a school and by night at a shelter that participates in the Point-in-Time Count. These encounters highlight for me the fact that housing instability and homelessness impact all kinds of people – working and non-working – and the barriers they face to regain housing require more than increasing their individual income – it requires community change around housing policy, practice and funding.


When I asked the mom, who splits her time working at a school and a shelter why she does it, she shared that it’s because she loves what she does, serving women and children who are facing homelessness. Similarly, my team leader at the homeless camp showed such grace, compassion, and empathy, offering hope to strangers during their own harrowing experience.

My Point-in-Time Count experience exposed me to staff and volunteers who work with people facing homelessness and housing instability every day and provide the same million-dollar care as the medevac team. This has inspired me to want to be more like them.

If we’re not intentional about how we care for each other as a community, then we can quickly forget the faces and stories of people who need our million-dollar care.

As a Charlotte resident, I see first-hand how neighbors wade into the deep waters of NIMBYism by rallying against re-zoning petitions for affordable housing when the potential new residents are families that earn less money, because they believe it will lower their property values and increase crime.

Much like my coworker, whose heart is full of gratitude for meeting the medevac crew that saved her husband, the team members that I met right here in Charlotte during the Point-in-Time Count are worth just as much for the way that they, and so many others like them, give of themselves to find housing for our homeless neighbors.

May we all be more like these team members, by loving and caring as individuals for those experiencing housing instability and homelessness and as a community through our policy, funding and programs.

I’m willing to try and help others. What about you?

Gail Whitcomb works for the City of Charlotte’s Housing & Neighborhood Services department, which oversees the City’s role in affordable housing, ending homelessness, immigrant integration, and community engagement. Gail is also active in her east Charlotte neighborhood, believing that we each must give of ourselves in our respective communities to be part of the change we want to see. Gail participated in the Northlake – University Point-in-Time Count to better understand homelessness in the east Charlotte communities in and around where she lives.