Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pillow Project: Men's Shelter of Charlotte Visit

This evening Tyler and I met with the Community Resource Coordinator, Jennifer Coates, at the Men's Shelter of Charlotte and had a tour of the facility.  The Men's Shelter actually has two centers (N. Tryon Street and Statesville Avenue), both shelters combined currently average about 325 men per night. During the bitter cold this week, MSC provided overflow (increasing the shelter capacity – including additional mats on the floor) to shelter 85 more men. During our time talking with Ms. Coates we learned more about some of the services the shelter provides in addition to housing. One of the things she shared is that even with the additional men this week because of the cold,  they are still seeing about 100 less people than this time last year and at the height of the economic recession.  That speaks to both improving economic conditions and a strong focus on MSC's new equation: Income + Housing + Support = End to Homelessness.

Let me take some time to reiterate something that has been said numerous times but can't be said enough, people are homeless for various reasons and assumptions should not be made. When we arrived, men were checking in for the night.  Many of them came from jobs or weren't expected to arrive until later because of work schedules.  Yes, there are people that are homeless that are employed. Some of the men have various medical conditions. If you are fortunate enough to have insurance, you still see your bill and the actual cost of medicine and medical treatments and you know there is nothing cheap about it!  Some people have medical conditions that are such a financial burden that they aren't able to afford housing.

The location we visited was the N. Tryon Street location and at this site they provide three meals daily, breakfast, lunch and dinner.  On average they feed 300 people per meal at a total cost of $500.  Having only a kitchen manager and a part time cook, they rely heavily on volunteers to come in and assist.  This evening a local church brought their own food and prepared dinner for the evening's guests which is something they welcome groups to do.  Some groups know the meal they will cook but provide the shelter with a list of ingredients needed and the shelter will purchase them.  When they don’t have volunteer groups, the part-time cook steps in, as do many of the men who live there.  They become the shelter's volunteers, especially for breakfast.  Many of them are very committed and get up at 4:30 am to start preparing the meal! 

One of the resources available to the guests is the Housing & Employment Resource Center (HERC). Here the guests have access to computers to search for housing and or jobs. This is a heavily used resource while guests are there.  Because not all of the guests are knowledgable about using computers, the HERC relies on volunteers to man the room in order to be open.  Ms. Coates shared a story of an older guest that needed to apply for work and as most jobs require now, you apply online, there aren't paper applications.  She had to sit with him and enter his information because he didn't know how to use a computer.

One of the board members is a chiropractor and comes to the shelter to provide his services at no charge to the guests to help with their back problems suffered from sleeping in/on less than desirable locations and positions. Dentists will come and provide cleanings and needed dental services at no charge to the guests. As we were leaving a man arrived that comes to help guests looking to receive a GED. There is a woman that comes and works with guests that are veterans to assist them with receiving benefits entitled to them as well as educate them about services or resources that are available for them.

Ms. Coates shared with us that the Executive Director, Carson Dean's vision is to be able to get enough men transitioned into permanent housing that there would only be a need for one shelter.  Ms. Coates shared with us that 240 men have moved to more permanent housing since July 1, 2013.

The Men's Shelter is always in need of volunteers as well as financial donations to allow them to continue providing the services and resources they currently offer.  If you are part of a church group, civic/social organization, work group or just a group of family and friends that is looking for ways to help the community through service, consider volunteering at the Men's Shelter of Charlotte.  You can help in the kitchen with cooking food or passing out trays; you can help supervise the HERC for an hour or two a month; bring cards and board games and host a game night with the guests; contribute through the Pillow Project; collect and donate items you use daily for personal grooming (toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, toilet paper, etc.).  As you can see the possibilities are endless and the need is great.

If you are interested in volunteering, contact the Community Resource Coordinator, Jennifer Coates, 704-334-3187 x103. She has been great to work with and not only excited that the Men's Shelter of Charlotte is part of the Pillow Project but also for the other shelter's benefitting in Charlotte and the other cities participating.

I don't feel you can truly LIVE in a community and ignore those that need help, reside maybe, but not live. If you can….shame on you.  We use the expression, "you're only as strong as your weakest link" all the time to motivate people in a work setting to give and do their best and help each other.  Does that not apply when there is no monetary or tangible benefit to those helping to strengthen the team?

One of my reasons for doing monthly projects/volunteering with my son is so that he sees the blessing in being able to give, not look at it as a burden.  To be able to help others through the priceless resource of time as well as financially, IS a blessing.  Just as we can compare ourselves to other families and look at the things we don't have and can't do, we have what we need and enjoy many extras in life.

Shirley Chisolm said, "Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth." Are you paying your rent?