Moving America Forward

The Unique Way That Charlotte Houses Its Homeless

April 10, 2014
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The Unique Way That Charlotte Houses Its Homeless
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The controversial move is saving the city millions.

Giving apartments to the chronically homeless sounds like a nutty idea, right? Turns out, it might not be so crazy after all.

When the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte, North Carolina proposed building apartments to gift to homeless individuals in the community, some greeted the idea with derision. Naysayers believed that doing so rewarded bad behavior. But the interfaith organization forged ahead with the plan, using government grants and private donations to build a $6 million housing complex consisting of 85 units.

And now, a University of North Carolina at Charlotte study examining the first year of results found that giving housing to the homeless — even to those who have substance addictions or are mentally ill or can’t meet the requirements to stay in regular shelters — saved the city money. A lot of money, in fact: $1.8 million dollars.

Not only did the occupants of the complex, called Moore Place, visit a hospital 447 fewer times, but they also were admitted for 372 fewer days.  Arrest numbers of residents also decreased by 74 percent, and tenants spent 84 percent fewer days in jail. These drops in city service usage is what resulted in the more than one million dollars in savings.

These findings have motivated Charlotte officials to build more projects that take a housing-first approach to helping the homeless. Charlotte’s Neighborhood and Business Service Department is currently considering proposals for ten more homeless housing projects. Plus, there are plans to expand Moore Place to 120 units.

One disabled Moore Place resident, Michael Byrd, visited emergency rooms 24 times the year before he moved in, accumulating $268,000 in medical bills. The year he moved in, he visited the hospital just five times, costing taxpayers only $9,000. Byrd told Mark Price of the Charlotte Observer, “When I was on the streets, my worst night was trying to sleep bundled up in an abandoned car when it was below freezing. It scared me.”

Caroline Chambre, director of HousingWorks for the Urban Ministry Center, told Price, “You can’t argue with the statistics. This approach was controversial at one time because of the stereotype of who the homeless are, and we had to change that stereotype.”

MORE: Utah is on Track to End Homelessness with This One Simple Idea

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