I get asked often what the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte means when we talk about moving men into more appropriate housing. Partly, I think the question stems from our desire to categorize things or fit them neatly into boxes. I get it, I have my own need for order and consistency. However, when dealing with people, we can’t do our best to serve when concerned more about classifying than understanding. So, here’s how we explain the concept of “more appropriate housing” at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte.
First, sleeping in an emergency shelter is more appropriate than being on the streets. I think most folks will readily agree on that. Next, most other forms of housing are more appropriate than staying in a shelter. Why? Shelter must be a short intervention aimed at helping someone in crisis quickly stabilize and then move on with their lives. For too long we’ve accepted the idea that once someone is in shelter it’s a good opportunity to deal with their issues so they can then be ready for housing. Not so! More than anything, long stays in shelter rob men of their esteem, their self-motivation. We need to help them move out of the shelter as quickly and effectively as possible. This starts with locating and obtaining more appropriate housing. For example, for someone overcoming addiction, a long-term residential treatment program may be more appropriate than shelter. A group home for medically fragile Veterans may be more appropriate. Assisted living may be more appropriate. For a lot of men, an apartment of their own is more appropriate. For many, being reunited with family is more appropriate.
Yes, there must be supports in place regardless of the housing opportunity to help deal with issues when times get tough. But times get tough for all of us. And when we have a support system we are able to deal with those obstacles and move on. Same applies with moving men into more appropriate housing. Making sure they have the income to sustain their housing choice and making sure supports are in place are critical. But the first step is understanding that shelter is very temporary and most other forms of housing are more appropriate. It’s not always a neat and tidy approach, but it’s incredibly effective.
Jammin’ at Home concert benefits Men’s Shelter of Charlotte
The event is inspired and organized by Corey Hall, a student at University of North Carolina at Charlotte Department of Social Work, earning his Bachelor of Social Work degree. Corey is an intern with the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte and a he has a passion for helping solve homelessness and for music. Corey shared, “It is an honor to work with dedicated people who love the individuals that they serve. I feel compelled and inspired to give back to the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte for what they have given to me; not only the knowledge to succeed in my field, but reinforcement in my belief of the inherent goodness of man. By organizing this benefit concert I hope to do my part for the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte’s mission to assist each man served by ending their experience with homelessness.”
The concert features local music talent from Charlotte and the region. Door prizes will be raffled and participation is guaranteed with price of admission. The Saloon will serve food and drink at the time of the event (not included with admission).
The goal is to raise $2,000 for the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte to support education, employment, housing and well-being programs for men experiencing homelessness in Charlotte.
The Saloon at the NC Music Factory
900 NC Music Factory Blvd.
Charlotte, NC 28206
Sunday, April 13, 2014
2:00 – 6:00p.m.
$8 cover charge
Sinners and Saints: www.sinnersandsaintsmusic.com
Little Districts: www.reverbnation.com/littledistrict
Chubby Knuckles: www.reverbnation.com/chubbyknuckles
Small Talk Assassins: www.reverbnation.com/#!/smalltalkassassin
These days we so often hear the words “collaboration” and “partnership.” Everyone knows the definition of each, but what does collaboration really look like? How do you know an effective partnership it when you see it? Oftentimes, it’s not as earthshattering or complicated in its execution as you might think. To illustrate, I’ll describe the process used at the Men’s Shelter to help a lot of men find more appropriate housing. For many of our men it starts with a visit to the HERC – Housing & Employment Resource Center – which is located in our Tryon Street Campus shelter. There men are greeted by volunteers who manage the activities of the center. For example, twice each week the HERC is staffed by our volunteer partners from Charlotte School of Law. The volunteers help men start the process, filling out an apartment application, determining how they’ll use public transit, and so on. From there, MSC’s housing specialists can more efficiently get men approved and ready to move into housing. To expedite the actual move, we turn to our partners at Crisis Assistance Ministry. Through their volunteers, Crisis Assistance Ministry provides our men with furniture and takes care of the physical move into their new place. By not having to manage all of the many pieces by ourselves, MSC has been able to move more men into housing in seven months this year (339 men) versus all of last year (288). You see, effective collaborations don’t have to be complicated or highly visible, they just have to get the partners focused on the mission – in our case, ending homelessness for each man.
I admit, I’ve done it. I will probably do it again. I’ve used the phrases “homeless man”, “homeless family”, “chronically homeless”, “the homeless.” I do it out of convenience, it’s just easier than saying “a man who is experiencing homelessness.” But being easy doesn’t make it right. Turning someone into a label out of convenience, or for any reason, is hurtful. In almost every other aspect of life we are very careful not to use labels because labels are insensitive, labels devalue people, labels hurt. I don’t want to be defined by my afflictions, much less any one of my many life experiences. I’m not “Carson, he’s got high blood pressure.” I’m not “Carson, Wake Forest dropout.” Homelessness isn’t a disease, it’s an experience; an experience I cannot do justice trying to describe because I’ve never personally experienced being homeless. Yet, that’s how we too often, sometimes innocently, sometimes maliciously, describe our fellow human beings who are or have experienced homelessness. “That’s Tony, he’s homeless.” “That’s Betty, she was homeless.” “What are we doing to help the homeless?” “Who is that homeless man?” A few weeks ago, I asked my staff to lead by example, me first. I asked them to strive to use fewer labels and, therefore, extend more respect to the men – the fathers, Veterans, sons, mechanics, college graduates – who we serve because at the moment they are experiencing homelessness. So forgive me if I take a few extra seconds to forego “homeless men” to more appropriately say “men who are experiencing homelessness.” Words matter. I don’t want to be labeled and I bet you don’t either. So let’s stop labeling those in our community who are experiencing homelessness; such labels don’t define who they are, not by a long shot.
The Men’s Shelter of Charlotte is well known as the only emergency shelter for men experiencing homelessness in our community. But we do so much more than provide shelter. Here’s three things I bet you didn’t know:
1. MSC focuses on Housing – MSC is one of our community’s largest housing providers. We don’t own or manage apartments. In fact, not every man we house moves into an apartment. We believe that the shelter is more appropriate than the streets and that most other forms of housing are more appropriate than being in a shelter. Since July 1, 2o13, our staff have helped more than 300 men move out of the shelter and into more appropriate housing – 43% into their own apartment, 26% reunited with family, and 31% connected to supportive housing programs that can meet their longer term needs.
2. MSC Focuses on Unique Needs – only a daily basis our staff assist men with a broad range of issues. We help men receiving terminal diagnoses deal with end of life issues. We help men reconnect with mothers they haven’t spoken to in many years. We help men address the various problems that keep holding them back from getting that job or finding a place to live. We help men find jobs, secure retirement benefits, and take care of their children. Often, we also get to celebrate. Just recently I was talking with a couple of our men and one shared that he received a letter from social security that day saying he was officially retired and would start receiving his social security check. He had worked hard all his life and we took a moment to celebrate that now he could retire with a place of his own.
3. MSC Relies on a Lot of Partners – whether volunteers, nonprofits, or local government, very little of our work is done by MSC alone. MSC counts on well over 100 houses of faith and over 3,000 volunteers to serve meals, manage our commissaries, and work with men in our Housing & Employment Resource Center. We have dozens of nonprofit partners who help us help our men. We rely on Crisis Assistance Ministry for furniture, clothing, and volunteers to move men into their new places. We rely on RHA to provide mental health outreach and treatment. We are fortunate that on Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, the Charlotte Rescue Mission hosts our men to a day of fellowship and great food. Our local government partners, especially the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, provide substance abuse treatment, testing for communicable diseases, and housing subsidy funds. We also connect the men we serve with the expert services of many of our fellow United Way partner agencies.
Now you know.