“Over the course of a lifetime, there are a few dozen moments that will stand out – moments that represent a shift in your world. One of those moments for me happened when I was leading our street outreach team, shortly after my son was born. We had been offering our services to a man who was living inside of a bus shelter. When we first approached him, he had no interest in talking about himself or housing. We started bringing him breakfast with some regularity, building trust. One morning, something shifted. When we asked yet again if he wanted help with housing, he exclaimed, “What took you so long!” We pulled out our tablet to start an application for supportive housing right away. Question one: First Name. Question two: Middle Name. And his answer would cause something to shift inside me. His middle name was “Perfect.” Perfect. Hadn’t that been my first thought when I held my son for the first time? I could almost see this man’s mother holding him in the delivery room. I imagined she knew she would not always be there, so she gave her son this name to remind the world what she saw in his first moments. While he was now facing serious health challenges and his life was far from perfect, I felt like I had somehow been grabbed by her prayers from a different time and place and was being invited to see him with her eyes. The theme for our spring newsletter is our resolve. Inside, you will hear about moments in the lives of those we serve and colleagues that give us the encouragement to keep going. For me, I will always be grateful to this mother, naming her son Perfect, a reminder of the incredible privilege to honor the dignity and value of each life that passes through our doors. ”
Resolved To Rise: Adding Units Of Supportive Housing
Nearly 500 individuals in Mecklenburg County are experiencing chronic homelessness. These are people with a disabling condition who have experienced homelessness for at least a year. That number will drop almost 20% when we open SECU The Rise on Clanton, which will provide permanent supportive housing for 88 individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.
In November of 2020, Roof Above purchased a hotel property located near the intersection of Clanton Road and I-77. After operating the facility as a shelter for several months, we have been transforming the hotel rooms into studio apartments. Eleven of the first tenants will be individuals who were in the North End Encampment and were formerly or are currently in a motel-based shelter, with services provided by a case manager who will continue to provide support at SECU The Rise on Clanton. Noah Brierton, MSW, LCSW is the onsite case manager who has been providing support at the motel and is preparing the future tenants’ transition to SECU The Rise on Clanton.“I am excited about the opportunity for people to relax their shoulders, to be in a safe and intentional space. They will have an apartment that is for them explicitly. I am looking forward for them to have that quiet peace and to see what that does for them,” said Noah. Many generous gifts – including $2 million from State Employees Credit Union (SECU), $2 million from the City of Charlotte, $1.5 million from Covenant Presbyterian Church and $1 million from the Lowe’s Foundation – made the $13 million project a reality. In addition to the studio apartments, a support services wing was added to provide case management and health care support to help a vulnerable population be successful in housing. Tenants will pay a third of their income toward rent.
Our Resolve to End Homelessness
Many Roof Above staff members and volunteers have been steadfast in their dedication to the work of ending homelessness. Their determination and motivation for the work is unique, but their resolve is the same: giving everyone in our community an opportunity for housing. The core of our work is people helping people. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of our organizational expenses are dedicated to staff salaries.
JERARD COLLINS (10 + YEARS)
Jerard has worked at the N. Tryon Men’s Shelter for 8 ½ years. He finds his resolve when he sees our guests’ desire to change. “When I see a guy ambitious to do something, it makes me more ambitious,” he explains. How does he help to motivate others? Jerard likes to do what he calls “barbershop talks,” one-onone, heart-to-heart conversations with guests about goals, life, relationships and commitment. “The guys I talk to can see the love and compassion and, for some, it gives them the reason to go into housing or kick the drugs.”
JANETTA LAMBERT (14 YEARS)
“I really feel like I was born to do this work,” says Janetta. It doesn’t feel like a job. I never dread coming in. I absolutely love what I do.” After fifteen years in corporate sales, she started as a volunteer and was hired in 2008 to manage showers and laundry services. From there, she moved into outreach, where she first worked with Roof Above CEO Liz Clasen-Kelly. She’s seen Liz grow as a leader over the years and even followed her to work at the Men’s Shelter. “Her knowledge and her heart for this work are unprecedented,” she says. Now on staff in our Day Services Resource Center, her resolve is fueled by the daily impact she sees. “In resources, you are helping 20 people a day, whether it’s getting their medication or getting them food or helping someone fill out an application for housing. It’s just little tiny things that I get to do all day that make a huge difference to our neighbors.”
SANDRA SMITH (27 YEARS)
Only a few days after Urban Ministry Center opened in 1994, Sandra arrived as a contract security guard. Resolved to make herself as useful as possible, she jumped in – working in the laundry room, helping with lunch and assisting with ordering food. “I did a little bit of everything,” she says. “I’d rather be doing something than just walking around the building. I’m just that kind of person.” Sandra soon became part of the center’s staff, and she is now director of food services for the Day Services Center, managing a staff of five and serving an average of 275 meals a day, seven days a week. What started as merely a job nearly three decades ago has become a lifelong passion. Her determination to show up is legendary; a recent bout with COVID marked the longest she’d ever been away from work. She has countless memories of working snow days and holidays. “This place changed my life,” she says. “This place was a blessing for me.”
VERONICA RITCHIE (7 YEARS)
Veronica feels privileged to do this work as our chief philanthropy officer. “Growing up in the tightly knit Lumbee community in eastern North Carolina, my people taught me that kinship, relationships, and community are foundational to life. Those core values are inseparable from who I am. People often ask me how I can ask others for money. For me, the invitation to give is so much more – it is an opportunity to connect and be in community with others where we see and experience our shared humanity. There are so many beautiful moments in our work when I see this magic happen and it brings me such joy to know I have played some small role in making it happen. My resolve is to keep inviting people into our work and creating the space for these moments that change peoples’ lives.”
JOANN MARKLEY (20 YEARS)
Joann believes ending homelessness in Charlotte is achievable because she has seen the great strides the community has taken. In 2008, she partnered with Urban Ministry Center (now Roof Above) to pilot the Housing First model with great success. “It wasn’t long ago that individuals would be denied a housing voucher if they had something on their record,” Joann explains. In 2014, the community reached another milestone with the first coordinated entry system, NC 2-1-1, Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s portal to connect individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness to an available shelter or housing resource. Joann says the pandemic brought to light more things in this work. “I see the community establishing more formal partnerships and more people doing this work,” said Joann.
LARRY RANN (8 YEARS)
Larry, our Room in the Inn and front desk support, answered an inner call to become a volunteer: “It was the spirit inside of me that would not let it go. I knew I had to serve in some capacity, so I did.” From receiving mail to helping neighbors obtain identification, Larry’s job as a volunteer was to meet the needs of those we serve. After four years as a volunteer, Larry knew it was time to move forward as a staff member. “I felt like it was a sign – I felt a duty to fulfill a need here at Roof Above.” Larry has now been on staff for four years, totaling eight years supporting the work to end homelessness. Larry says, “My resolve is to continue to give people the necessary resources to get out of the situations they are in. We can’t change everything at once, but we can give people the option to choose better.”
ANITA BROWN (10 YEARS)
“Anita is both practical and a dreamer,” shares Joann, Anita’s colleague (pictured above). “She roots for the underdog and always sees the possibility in people.” Anita grew up in a small town and often heard judgment passed that where you start is where you are going to end up. She has tried from an early age to see the good in people and believe in everyone’s potential. Anita is determined in her resolve to end homelessness. “Just like everyone is deserving of love and support, everybody deserves an opportunity for housing,” she says. “I have witnessed the growth of individuals in housing, and it’s amazing, which keeps me in this work.”
Tackling The Housing Crisis
When the boards of Urban Ministry Center and Men’s Shelter of Charlotte decided to merge to become Roof Above, there were three words that guided them: Scale, Impact and Voice. Since the merger, we have scaled up our operations and increased our impact, especially in new housing programs. This year, we resolve to amplify our voice to advocate for more housing solutions. Below are two critical housing challenges and opportunities. Sign up for our new advocacy email and read about other affordable housing solutions on our website.
In Charlotte, as with the nation, it has been the private marketplace, not the government, that has been the primary provider of affordable housing. Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing, or NOAH, are generally older apartment communities and homes, and they provide safe and affordable housing for low-income households across Charlotte.
Opportunity: Now is a critical moment to do all we can to preserve NOAH: Roof Above purchased a NOAH in 2020 (HillRock Estates) to both preserve NOAH and transition 75 units to serve individuals who had experienced chronic homelessness. In 2021, the Housing Impact Fund launched, which raised $58 million private capital to preserve more than 1,000 units of NOAH in its first two years. Both these efforts had financial support from the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. We must continue to funnel private and public investments to preserve NOAH, so Charlotte does not lose its largest source of affordable housing.
Nationwide, the pandemic highlighted the unstable situation of staying long-term in hotels and motels because of unaffordable housing. Households in motels and hotels were often not eligible for rental assistance and unprotected by eviction moratoriums. But, the pandemic also highlighted a unique opportunity… what if these motels and hotels could become stable and affordable apartments? • This spring, Roof Above will open SECU The Rise on Clanton, a converted hotel that will provide 88 apartments of permanent supportive housing for people who have been chronically homeless. • Early in the pandemic, we also re-purposed the former King’s College dorms to offer a transitional shelter for 157 men over 13 months, with a 70% success rate for moving into housing. With the challenges our community is facing, we must look to see what already exists around us as creative solutions to our affordable housing crisis. We can transform unstable housing or unused space into a firm foundation for affordable housing. Opportunity: With the significant one-time funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, our community has a unique opportunity to advocate to the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to use these one-time funds to purchase hotels and other spaces to create more affordable housing.
CELEBRATING 10 YEARS OF MOORE PLACE
This spring, Roof Above celebrated the 10th anniversary of Moore Place, a permanent supportive housing site that became a national model for reducing homelessness. Since 2012, more than 300 of Charlotte’s most vulnerable neighbors have been welcomed home to Moore Place. With a housing retention rate of more than 90%, Moore Place effectively ends homelessness for its tenants.