Urban Ministry Center and Men’s Shelter of Charlotte to merge
Two of Charlotte’s largest nonprofits that address homelessness will merge into one organization later this year, with a heightened focus on affordable housing, they announced Wednesday. As rent prices skyrocket in Mecklenburg County amid an unprecedented development boom, the Urban Ministry Center and the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte will have a louder voice as one nonprofit, said Liz Clasen-Kelly, who will oversee the new organization. Clasen-Kelly, who currently oversees the Men’s Shelter, said rising rents have made it harder and more expensive for her organization to find stable housing for her homeless clients. And even as affordable housing has taken center stage on Charlotte’s policy agenda, she said, a fix for the poorest residents in Charlotte is often left out of the conversation. “This combined agency will focus on the solutions so that someone on a disability check, someone earning $8 an hour, still has a place to call home,” she said. The services offered on a day-to-day basis by each organization will remain in place through the merger in May, as will the organizations’ physical facilities, about three blocks from each other off North Tryon Street. Urban Ministry Center operates a day center, conducts street outreach and runs substance abuse recovery programs, with a focus on housing people who are chronically homeless, particularly those with health issues. The Men’s Shelter offers employment services and runs two facilities with about 400 beds total. Dale Mullennix, who will retire in May as director of the Urban Ministry Center, said that, besides more concentrated services, the larger nonprofit will also be able to have greater influence on citywide discussions. The city is hoping to raise $100 million — half of it from bonds that voters approved in November — for an affordable housing push. “What we’d like to do is put our voices together so that we have a bigger seat at the table,” Mullennix said, “in order to have a bigger impact into how decisions are made in the community.” Under his leadership, the organization launched Moore Place, a supportive housing complex with on-site social workers, nurses and a psychiatrist. It also pushed for steady living conditions, pointing to results that show housing the chronically homeless overwhelmingly led to other positive outcomes: Among those served by its housing-first strategy, emergency room visits went down by 81 percent and time in jail decreased by 91 percent. Clasen-Kelly, who worked under Mullennix before taking the helm of the men’s shelter in 2016, said that she hopes to preserve the Urban Ministry Center’s data-informed approach. But more than anything, she said she’s excited for the ideas that will come from one larger, more coordinated effort. “I literally wake up every day asking, ‘How do we end homelessness?’”
People line up to get food and shelter on a cold evening at the Urban Ministry Center.