CHARLOTTE, N.C. – On a rainy, chilly night in Charlotte, there was new evidence of how serious the city’s homeless problem has become.
Women, and in some cases children and pets, stay in cars in the parking lot of the Salvation Army Center of Hope women’s shelter and the Crisis Assistance Ministry located next door to the shelter.
County Commissioner Pat Cotham said she is determined to raise awareness of the problem.
“It breaks my heart,” said Cotham who has spoken to a woman named Renae who agreed to let her picture be used to illustrate the problem.
Renae also allowed Cotham to photograph her car where her two dogs spend the night with her.
The shelter will not allow Renae inside because of her dogs.
Shelter Director Deronda Metz said she neither condones nor discourages women from staying in their cars in the parking lot.
After 20 years in Charlotte, Metz knows how bad the homeless problem has become and says this is the first time she has had to face women living in the parking lot because the shelter is at capacity.
“One concern is especially for moms of school-age kids," said Metz. "How are those kids going to function in school?”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police are partnering with the shelter to try to improve the situation.
Some things under discussion include issuing parking passes to keep track of who is staying there, issuing a set of rules for behavior, and perhaps providing lockers to secure valuables that would otherwise be left in the vehicles.
Carol Hardison is CEO of Crisis Assistance Ministry where on Wednesday, the Ministry helped 85 people who needed assistance with basics like clothing and paying their utility bills.
“It's really hard to understand because we are one mile from the third-largest financial center in the country," Hardison lamented.
Commissioner Cotham said she would look into the possibility of the county providing blankets and sleeping bags for those with no choice but to sleep in their cars.