In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the winter solstice will take place at 5:02 a.m. on Monday, December 21, 2020. Also known as the “darkest day,” the winter solstice marks the shortest period of sunlight, and therefore the longest night of the year. Winter solstice rituals and celebrations have been taking place for over 12,000 years. With what some cultures believed to be the sun’s literal “rebirth,” the winter solstice provides both a time to take stock of what has transpired, and to look to a new beginning. As the days lengthen, and our community looks to emerge from the pandemic, new rays of hope start to shine.
According to Moody’s Analytics, almost $70 billion is owed by U.S. renters in combined back rent, utilities, and late fees as of January 2021. Data from the latest U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey indicates that 29.6% (199,447) of adults living in households in North Carolina report that they are not current on their rent or mortgage payments; and eviction or foreclosure in the next two months is either “very” or “somewhat” likely. On a single night in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, there are at least 3,165 individuals experiencing homelessness. Indeed, the light we are starting to see first serves to illuminate the desolate landscape that 2020 has been.
In recognition of endings and the possibilities of new, positive directions, this week’s blog post is dedicated to a look ahead, with a focus on what’s happening at the system level to address housing instability and homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. This post will also address, in the spirit of this time of year, specific ways that individuals can make a difference in this vital work of ending and preventing homelessness in the community. Taken one step further, how might this new beginning also be the start of “real” change, at the individual and systemic levels?
AT THE SYSTEM LEVEL
Addressing a complex problem like housing instability and homelessness is normally like navigating our overloaded, leaking ship solely by the stars at night. In the face of a public health crisis, it is akin to sailing into a storm, with the clouds and moon totally obscured and many hours until dawn. This kind of drastic shift in circumstances requires public and private sector commitment and alignment to engender systems-focused changes. It also requires, ironically, patience and a steady hand on the tiller. Just as this storm did not develop overnight, even the best solutions will not create an immediate, safe harbor. But, over time, communities that stay the course can (and will) see measurable results. Below are examples of current systems-focused efforts to address housing instability and homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG CONTINUUM OF CARE (COC)
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg CoC includes individuals and organizations across Mecklenburg County who are committed to ending and preventing homelessness. The vision of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg CoC is ensuring that homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring; and that everyone has both housing choices and prompt access to a variety of housing resources and supports that meets their needs. The CoC program is authorized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to promote a communitywide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness; to provide funding for efforts by state and local governments, and nonprofit providers; to quickly rehouse homeless individuals and families while minimizing the trauma and dislocation caused to homeless individuals, families, and communities by homelessness; to promote access to, and effect utilization of, mainstream programs by homeless individuals and families; and to optimize self-sufficiency among individuals and families experiencing homelessness.
“EVALUATE UPSTREAM”: OPTIMIZING THE HOMELESSNESS PREVENTION ASSISTANCE SYSTEM IN CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG
In response to COVID-19, communities are developing strategic housing and homelessness plans to integrate public health promotion with economic recovery. Prevention is key to both protecting the community and ensuring housing stability. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, there is currently no overarching strategy or evaluation framework for prevention assistance. Multiple organizations provide a range of prevention activities, but there is no coordinated effort to align prevention resources to match the needs of the populations at risk of experiencing homelessness. On May 1, 2020, Mecklenburg County Community Support Services launched a new Continuum of Care (CoC) planning grant-funded project. Referred to as “Evaluate Upstream,” this work will continue through April 2021. “Evaluate Upstream” will produce an overall evaluation methodology and framework to enable an informed and nimble approach to adjusting prevention strategies and activities in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
COVID-19 HOME4GOOD HOUSING & ECONOMIC RECOVERY WORKGROUP
In May 2020, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care (CoC) Governing Board adopted the Home4Good Framework. This structure is based upon work completed by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and the Center for Budget Policies and Priorities. The framework provides guidance on the ways in which communities can maximize new funding from the CARES Act (and other sources) to both respond to the immediate, pandemic-driven crisis and plan for the longer-term economic recovery. The Home4Good Framework has six areas of impact: Coordinated Entry; Prevention; Unsheltered Homelessness; Sheltered Homelessness; Permanent Housing; and Strengthening Systems. Following the adoption of the Home4Good Framework, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg CoC formed a Home4Good Framework Workgroup to oversee the local adaptation and implementation of the Home4Good Framework recommendations. The workgroup subsequently formed six teams, with each dedicated to an impact area. The workgroup was charged by the CoC Governing Board to analyze need across the housing continuum; identify and recommend alignment of funding opportunities and eligible activities; implement action steps, using the Home4Good framework; utilize an equity lens; and connect existing and new efforts to address housing instability and homelessness during the pandemic era, responding (and adjusting, when necessary) to changing conditions.
MCKINSEY & COMPANY: “2025 CHAR-MECK HOMELESSNESS STRATEGY”
This is a newly formed cross-sector effort, given the working name “2025 Char-Meck Homelessness Strategy.” The goal of this project is to develop an overall plan that will help Charlotte-Mecklenburg become a national leader in addressing homelessness in the next three years. The work will offer aligned strategies; unified goals; and clear funding pathways to support the plan. Over the next six months, stakeholders will work to create a common lexicon; identify clear metrics; map the county’s affordable housing stock; and develop a 3-year plan of priority actions, including funding requests, ongoing governance structure, and a communications plan. This effort will prioritize transparency and inclusivity with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community to ensure transformative impacts.
COVID-19 RESPONSE FUND
In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, United Way of Central Carolinas and Foundation for the Carolinas launched a collaborative fundraising effort. This fund has raised over $23.6 million from individuals, corporations, and local governments to support issues including homelessness and eviction prevention. These funds have been allocated to non-profits that address basic needs; childcare; education; food security; health and mental health; legal advocacy; shelter and housing; and workforce development.
AS AN INDIVIDUAL
Individuals play a critical role in ensuring that the ship continues to head in the right direction. Individuals can and do support housing and homelessness organizations and the systems-focused efforts listed above. Support takes multiple shapes, including giving time; advocating on behalf of others; raising awareness; and donating goods and resources. Links are provided above to learn more about the systems-focused efforts. To learn more about organizations doing this work in the community, visit the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Ecosystem.
In addition, resources are provided below for individuals who are interested in learning how to make a difference at the federal level. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) has called for a national eviction moratorium until the pandemic is over, in combination with at least $100 billion in federal emergency rental assistance. Without significant financial assistance from the federal government to help renters (and the landlords who are renting to them), the eviction moratorium merely postpones the inevitable.
With dark days upon us, it can be hard to contemplate new beginnings. In the garden, for example, winter is when plants cultivated during spring and summer wither and die. The soil lays barren, at rest. Or, does it?
The following is an excerpt from a prayer attributed to Saint Oscar Romero: “We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way.”
Taking action when we cannot see the immediate fruits of our labors is hard. This is especially difficult during the holiday season, when our culture is wired for consumerism. The work to increase both the access to and the availability of permanent, affordable housing is long and hard. The plans for new units today may not be realized for years down the road. Planting seeds in winter may seem illogical and unproductive.
But we are reminded that with the arrival of the winter solstice, more daylight is coming. The storm will dissipate. The seeds planted today will one day grow. The world continues to spin, but it shifts almost imperceptibly on its axis. Hope dawns for a new beginning, a chance at real, measurable change. To safely navigate the darkness that was 2020, though, requires a shared commitment today…so that one day everyone, regardless of ZIP code or other circumstance, has a place to finally call home.
There will be no Building Bridges blog post next week.
Courtney LaCaria coordinates posts on the Building Bridges Blog. Courtney is the Housing & Homelessness Research Coordinator for Mecklenburg County Community Support Services. Courtney’s job is to connect data on housing instability, homelessness and affordable housing with stakeholders in the community so that they can use it to drive policy-making, funding allocation and programmatic change.