The Street Outreach Team and volunteers hit the streets of Uptown once a month starting at 9:00 PM to get a pulse on how many people are sleeping in Uptown, and who they are. It’s a chance to talk to people before they’re asleep, but after they’ve settled in for the night. While the neighbors are always surprised to see the team out so late, the high number of people seen has equally surprised the team.
In May the team identified 68 individuals as experiencing homelessness in Uptown, and in June the number rose to 71. Of those, 11 were found both months, and 23 were identified as being chronically homeless. Many found were familiar to the outreach team or already clients, while others were new faces, each with a different story and reason for sleeping outside. While the team doesn’t have historical data to determine if street homelessness is increasing in Uptown, the numbers are still striking, and they only cover Uptown: not any camps throughout the city and county.
The numbers can seem overwhelming. The team, in addition to all the staff at UMC and other homeless services agencies, works tirelessly to get people housed every day, and has many successes, so why are there still so many unsheltered individuals? The answer is complicated, and one large reason is the lack of affordable housing and the lack of landlords willing to accept housing vouchers.
It may come as a surprise that many individuals seen on the streets or in the shelters have a housing voucher but can’t find a landlord willing to accept them. Or, they may already have a caseworker and have a housing plan in place they are working toward. Currently, over 25 individuals from the chronically homeless registry have a housing voucher and are still experiencing homelessness while in the housing search. There are an additional 33 individuals with Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) applications completed and submitted, waiting for a slot in a PSH program to open up. Even more people are engaged with the outreach team and are working on housing plans. With an increase in people being unable to afford a place to live and entering in to homelessness, and barriers to quickly exiting homelessness, it is no wonder the numbers are so high.
The Street Outreach Team grapples with the data they’re capturing by focusing on UMC’s mission to bring the community together to end homelessness one life at a time. The work is hard, but by bringing stakeholders together to focus on systems change, while also focusing on each person individually, progress will be made.
What can you do to help?
- Volunteer with the street outreach team. The team needs volunteers for early morning, evening, and late night outreach. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if interested
- Donate sleeping bags, tents, backpacks, and other essential items the team gives to unsheltered individuals in need
- Stay educated on local data and trends by following the Mecklenburg County dashboard: https://mecklenburghousingdata.org/
- Advocate for more affordable housing in Charlotte, especially for those making 30% or less of area median income