Editor’s note: This is the first story in a five-part series on the homeless crisis in Cabarrus County.
Hundreds of children in Cabarrus County are hungry and left without a permanent place to call home.
While homeless children are a big concern for county leaders, there are hundreds of people, families and single mothers sleeping on the streets or moving from couch to couch.
More than 540 students in the Cabarrus County and Kannapolis City school systems were identified as being homeless at some point during the 2018-19 school year, which means they don't have a permanent address or could be temporarily staying with friends or relatives.
That’s the most ever recorded in the county, and the numbers keep growing at a staggering rate.
That doesn’t even count newborns or preschool-aged children.
The McKinney-Vento Act is a federal law that ensures the right of students to go to school even when they are homeless, and aims to reduce barriers that prevents them from attending classes.
Cooperative Christian Ministry: www.cooperativeministry.com
Opportunity House: www.opphouse.net
Healthy Cabarrus: Homelessness: www.healthycabarrus.org/priorities/homelessness
Children make up about 40 percent of the homeless population, according to data by Cooperative Christian Ministry.
“You take 500 school kids and begin to look at the population and demographics that we serve, 13,000 families a year, and you know there are preschool children, at least one parent, and all of a sudden that 500 students looks like 800 or 900,” said Ed Hosack, Executive Director of Cooperative Christian Ministry and leader of the Cabarrus County Homelessness Task Force.
An exact count of homeless people in Cabarrus County is tough to tabulate because it’s changing in the blink of an eye.
Local operations, including Cooperative Christian Ministry, Opportunity House and Salvation Army, are collaborating with city and county leaders, along with professionals in the homeless field to lead discussions on what to do to help the homeless population.
Cabarrus County has more than 200,000 residents, and more than 22,800 of them are facing poverty.
“We are losing the battle,” Hosack said bluntly. “Just look at evictions and the number of students experiencing homelessness each year. So what do we need to do? We need to find a way to prevent evictions, the ones based on financial situations. We need to find a way to intervene earlier and help people avoid evictions.”
Hosack said that aside from mental health issues and substance use, there is a cycle of loss before someone actually becomes homeless – such as utility debt, landlord debt and evictions – caused by lack of affordable housing, job loss, disabilities or not having a job that can support a lifestyle.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, they were homeless one night.’ What leads to homelessness? There is a cycle of loss before someone actually becomes homeless,” Hosack said. “One night of homelessness doesn’t sound bad until you know the recovery from that takes years.”
According to a report done by Cooperative Christian Ministry, 29 percent (about 21,000) of the households in Cabarrus County are renters, and about 37 percent (7,622) of them are cost-burdened.
In 2018, Cabarrus County averaged 102 evictions per month, which totaled more than 1,220 for the year.
That number is on par to be the same this year.
“There are a lot of reasons for eviction. Some of them are because they were misbehaving, some because they were breaking the rules, but a vast majority of them are going to be financial,” Hosack said. “It’s kind of like if you and I were pulling people out of the water and into the boat because they were drowning, for every one we pull in, two more are falling out the other side. That’s the situation we are in right now as it relates to homelessness.”
A few years ago, the Cabarrus Health Alliance started a Homelessness Task Force, a group of up to 24 different professionals discussing the issue quarterly, but continuing to stay on top of the problem.
There are health representatives, city and county leaders, representatives from the school system, all working to find the right resources.
“We are just trying to identify opportunities, connect the agencies and better serve the population,” Hosack said. “The primary objectives are twofold, to connect the agencies and individuals to create better communication. That group is responsible, once a year, for doing the homeless point in time count. Other than that, it’s really just trying to identify innovative opportunities, something we can try.”
Each January, task force representatives will scour the county counting homeless people in shelters, sleeping on the ground or walking around.
They found 150 homeless people on one single day last January.
However, Hosack said that’s not an exact indication of the homeless population in Cabarrus County.
“That count is like a snapshot one time in January,” Hosack said. “It’s always a challenge. I equate it to, if you or I were to paint a picture of ourselves once a year for 10 years, anyone of those pictures doesn’t tell you a whole lot, but if you line them up next to each other, you can see change and decide whether it was good or bad.”