Why Homeless Services Must Remain Uptown
Charlotte is among many communities across the country striving to put its best foot forward by attracting people to a vibrant downtown that is easy to access, offers diverse cultural experiences, caters to tourists, and promotes economic prosperity. As Charlotte continues to emerge as a world class city, it must also wrestle with the problems that accompany such growth. We are fortunate to have leaders in the business, government, civic, and faith spheres who agree that we must address these growing pains in a way that is in the best interest of all citizens, including those experiencing homelessness. Some communities have chosen to create unfriendly and even exclusionary policies towards homeless citizens in an attempt to “clean up” their downtowns. Charlotte, on the other hand, has chosen to demonstrate compassion for our most vulnerable citizens while focusing of economic development, a win-for-all approach involving a host of city leaders including Charlotte Center City Partners.
An errant idea that keeps emerging is to move homeless services providers further from uptown Charlotte in attempt to relocate those experiencing homelessness to an unnoticeable part of town because doing so will attract more people and greater business opportunity to the city. In other words, the argument contends that to be able to redevelop portions of town like our North Tryon Street corridor, we must remove “undesirable elements.” This approach is flawed for several reasons. First, companies looking to relocate to Charlotte want to move to a city that is addressing its problems proactively, not simply hiding them. Second, where do you relocate “undesirable elements” and what happens when their new neighborhood undergoes redevelopment? A vicious cycle of discrimination against our homeless citizens emerges. Third, if you want to increase the presence of homelessness uptown, move the shelters and service providers away from the center city. This may sound counter-intuitive, but take a closer look. Our citizens experiencing homelessness need easy access to jobs, medical care, transportation hubs and the like. These are the same services and opportunities that are intentionally consolidated uptown for the specific purpose of being easily accessible to citizens who live, work, and play in our center city. At the very least, citizens experiencing homelessness should be treated first and foremost as citizens.
When shelters and other service providers are located away from center city, homeless citizens still go downtown like everyone else. However, they are apt to spend considerably more time downtown because transportation is a serious barrier to mobility. Think about it this way, for many of us heading uptown is pretty easy. We drive our cars, pay for parking, conduct business or enjoy our leisurely pursuits and then get back in our cars and go home. Or, if we can afford, and choose, to live in one of the many high rise residential properties located uptown, we then walk, call on Uber, or use the new trolley to get around. Our citizens experiencing homelessness cannot afford parking deck rates or uptown rents, much less having access to any reliable transportation. But they still rely on the service jobs that make our uptown so enjoyable; and, of course, support prosperous economic development. They need access to the healthcare facilities centrally located around uptown, and they need to come and go utilizing the transportation hub in the middle of town. Moving the places where those experiencing homelessness sleep at night or get help during the day will only make matters worse for our most vulnerable citizens. This is why the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte has been located just a few blocks up North Tryon Street for over 25 years and why we will continue to reside in our current location for the next 25 years.