What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been
I’ve always liked the Grateful Dead, but I’m certainly not a deadhead. I can, however, relate to the title of one of their best known tunes, What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been. Your see, it was seven years ago today (September 2, 2008) that I drove into Charlotte for my first day of work at what was then the Uptown Shelter. I had never seen the building on North Tryon Street before, I had only been to Charlotte once in my life (for a U2 concert), and I was planning to spend the first month on the job living in a hotel off Tyvola Road.
Within my first couple of months, we began implementing Uptown Shelter’s merger with the Emergency Winter Shelter. In October, 2009, the merger was complete and the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte became our name. Overnight the agency I led almost doubled in budget, employees, and men served. Then the recession hit. The number of men served in our shelters peaked to almost 600 on some nights. Our budget shrank. We downsized our employee base while serving more men. In the midst of the chaos we made plans to launch our housing component and reorganize our agency to focus more on solving homelessness than providing just a refuge for those experiencing homelessness. In fiscal year 2012 we moved 189 men out of the shelter into more appropriate housing.
Today, we can celebrate having moved more than 1,450 men into more appropriate housing. We’ve gone from 500 nightly beds to 400, with many nights not reaching full capacity. We’ve added coordinated assessment and diversion to our program tool kit. Our Housing & Employment Resource Center is open seven days per week. Our budget is healthy and our workforce is approaching eighty employees. We have over 3,000 volunteers, representing over 100 congregations, businesses, civic groups and families. Our return on investment is strong … we are ending homelessness in our community!
What a long strange trip it’s been indeed! This morning, during our weekly leadership team meeting, we were sharing what motivates us to get up and come to work each day. Certainly our mission to provide safe emergency shelter while working to end homelessness for each man is compelling. Focusing on our equation – Income + Housing + Support = An End to Homelessness – is motivating. Moving so many men home fuels us when we’re feeling empty. Yet, in so many ways, for me it’s the trip. Walking alongside such incredible colleagues, staff, partners, volunteers, donors, and men – most definitely the men – has made these past seven years among the best of my life and I’m looking forward to seeing how strange the trip will be over the next seven years.
My thanks to all for the honor of leading the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte. It has been a strange trip, but it’s also a mighty blessing.