Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Charlotte center provides hope, housing for homeless

Moore Place tenants, top, spend some time outdoors with the apartment complex’s security guard, seated far left. 

By Jane Duckwall

When Charlotte’s Urban Ministry Center opened Moore Place in February 2012, Tabby Burns was one of the first residents. Partially paralyzed and addicted to crack, she’d been homeless for years and spent one Christmas holed up in a port-a-potty. Now 55, she’s been sober since late 2009, when various health issues led to a nearly three-month hospital stay. After her release, she lived at a recuperative shelter before moving into the Moore Place apartment complex.

“I’m very grateful for what God gave me,” she says, “which is the right people at the right time in my life so that I could be where I am, which is clean and sober.”

Moore Place is filled with similar stories of second chances. Each of its 120 single-tenant apartments is occupied by someone who had been homeless for at least a year and has a mental or physical disability or an addiction. There’s still more to be done. Of the 1,476 people experiencing homelessness in Charlotte during January’s annual count, 147 were identified as chronically homeless. The city hopes to reduce that number to zero this year. UMC has several programs to help the homeless, including a soup kitchen, temporary housing during the winter at Charlotte churches, and permanent housing at Moore Place and scattered apartments around the city.

Moore Place uses the “housing first” model, which identifies the chronically homeless, provides them with housing and then surrounds them with the support services needed to turn their lives around. Federal subsidies play a key role. At Moore Place, tenants pay 30% of any income they receive in rent, with the rest covered by housing subsidies. The average income of residents is $733 a month, while a few tenants have no income and pay nothing.

“We have a saying that housing is a basic human right,” says UMC Executive Director Dale Mullennix. “It’s not a reward for clinical success, because almost nobody has clinical success living on the street.” Tenants receive services to help keep them out of taxpayer-funded jails, detox centers, emergency rooms and hospitals.

A study found that Moore Place residents reduced their emergency-room visits by 81% and their hospital stays by 62% during their first two years as residents, saving $2.4 million in costs to the community. Three-fourths of tenants are at least 50, while nearly half have at least three health problems. Before Moore Place, health and arrest-related costs for 13 of the chronically homeless exceeded $35,000 per person. By the end of a one-year pilot project, Mullennix says, “We had spent $10,800 per person, and they were getting healthier, happier and reconnecting with family. Their shame went down, and their dignity went up.”

Moore Place was named in honor of three people who played essential roles in its creation: Charlotte philanthropists John and Pat Moore paid for the pilot program, and Denver Moore provided the inspiration. He had been homeless for decades in Texas before he wrote a book on his experience. When UMC volunteer Kathy Izard invited him to speak at a fundraising lunch in Charlotte, he visited the local center and asked her, “Where are the beds?” That inspired her to raise money for the housing project.

Moore Place apartments are 360 square feet and fully furnished, with a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen and small living room. Residents have access to on-site health care professionals and social workers and activities such as bingo and movie nights, along with off-campus visits to the gym, stores or museums.

“I feel like a new person, and for the first time in my life I am proud of who I am and what I have achieved,” says Veronica Mathis, 64, who had been homeless for 15 years and spent time in prison for selling cocaine to an undercover police officer. She’s in recovery now and is taking classes at Central Piedmont Community College to earn her GED. “I am determined to do it,” Mathis says. “Moore Place saved my life and made my dreams possible.”

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