A Genuine Touch: Hitting the Streets to Help Unsheltered Homeless

City of Charlotte skyline at night.

The time of year is approaching when hot or extreme weather may pose a danger to residents, especially people who live unsheltered on the street. Helping these neighbors often takes a "genuine touch," reaching out to them where they live, eat and sleep. That's why Mecklenburg County Community Support Services is building a street outreach program that engages and supports people living on the street throughout our community.

With funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the County has partnered with Hearts for the Invisible CLT (HFTIC) to lead the street outreach effort. Hearts for the Invisible CLT will organize resources and develop a plan to coordinate resources and organizations in each area of the County. It will expand outreach by creating a multidisciplinary team to engage with residents experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

During the 2023 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Point-in-Time count on Jan. 26, 288 people were identified as experiencing unsheltered homelessness on that night. It was the first time that volunteers canvassed the entire geographic area of Mecklenburg County, including the six towns, to locate, engage, and survey individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

"People who live without shelter are likely to have higher vulnerabilities and housing barriers than people living in shelters," said Karen Pelletier, director of Community Support Services’ Housing Innovation and Stabilization Services division. "But they aren't connected to the resources that shelters provide. They tend to be disconnected and lack the system navigation they need in finding their way to help."

By proactively reaching out—providing resources and building relationships—the street outreach approach will engage directly with people experiencing unsheltered homelessness and connect them with the support they need to transition off the streets and towards long-term stability. The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners allocated $650,000 from dollars received through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) for this purpose.

There are many people and organizations who stand ready to help. Hearts for the Invisible CLT works to pull together partners already engaged in the work such as housing providers, mental health and substance use providers, grassroots organizations, local governments, and law enforcement and organize these efforts for a more strategic approach.

“Meeting individuals where they are with no judgment or upfront expectations while assisting neighbors with attaining their vision of stability. It is a true blessing and privilege to do this work,” said Jessica Lefkowitz, founder of Hearts for the Invisible CLT. “Many of the people we serve have limited access or have limited mental and physical capacity to seek out services. HFTIC strives to bring the resources directly to the most vulnerable in our community. We help individuals and families get connected to available housing resources, shelters, mental health and substance user services, health care providers, employment opportunities, transportation, vital records and in some cases reuniting them with family or friends.”

The project stems from the experience and lessons of the North End encampment project and input from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care's Unsheltered Workgroup. It is expected to bring together those services, reduce barriers, increase access, and decrease these people’s time on the street.

To learn more about sheltered and unsheltered homelessness and the state of housing in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, visit the Housing and Homelessness Dashboard.