CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina city has closed its temporary winter shelter program, putting more than 60 families back on the streets and possibly in their cars.
Paul Hanneman of the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte said 1,500 people used the program over the winter, The Charlotte Observer reported. Of those, Hanneman said 109 were children, some of them only a few months old. The program’s season ended on March 31.
Deronda Metz, director of the Center of Hope, says the closing of Room in the Inn always means more people sleeping in cars outside the shelter. She said one idea would be to create lots where such families can park at night. The lots would be well lit, patrolled regularly by police and possibly offer access to a public restroom.
While Metz called it an outlandish idea for Charlotte, it’s actually being tried in Seattle, where a safe parking program was created five years ago by opening up church lots where people can park and connect to housing services.
Metz hopes Charlotte’s faith community may help develop a similar program, which would allow homeless families to park in areas of the city near their jobs or the schools their children attend.
"I know of no other options," Metz said. "The reality is we have people sleeping outside anyway. I’m just looking for a model from another city where people can do so safely, while still connecting to the services we offer."
Hanneman believes Metz’s proposal should be considered, as opposed to people circling a Walmart for a quiet spot.
Mecklenburg County commissioner Pat Cotham also likes the idea, saying she has actually visited the Center of Hope parking lot at night to offer blankets and food to families sleeping in their cars.
She believes the best case scenario would be if they could sleep in the parking lot of the shelter. However, Metz says the lot isn’t big enough and she doesn’t have money for hiring security to keep them safe.
"I think it’s important that people are safe and can sleep in peace," Cotham says. "If the people can drive around my neighborhoods and make sure we’re safe, I see no reason why they can’t drive around the parking lots and make sure these people are safe. The parking lot is like their neighborhood. In many cases, these are women who have escaped or experienced some kind of domestic abuse and they are traumatized."
Information from: The Charlotte Observer, http://www.charlotteobserver.com