CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte has an affordable housing issue, it’s no secret, and it’s definitely a problem many at all levels are working to fix. But the lack of affordable housing is one reason many people experience homelessness.
Twice a week, volunteers set up shop in Uptown Charlotte to provide a hot meal and warm clothes to the men and women left in the cold.
More than 3,000 people in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area are homeless. But the community-based organization, Rice N Beans, is hoping to change that number.
“I’ve led over 100 missions teams to about 23 countries and done a lot domestically and really felt like I had not done enough in my own city,” says Daryl Sutherland, the founder of Rice N Beans.
Sutherland started the group to help the homeless nine years ago.
“I got a couple of guys, and we started talking to people on the street and just meeting them and building a relationship of trust. Then we started bringing hot dogs,” Sutherland says.
Now there’s more than just hot dogs, Sutherland and his team also give out rice and beans, clothes, and toiletries. There’s also more volunteers that help him make his rounds on the streets, delivering meals to those who need them most.
One of the volunteers, Zack Watts, explains why he lends a helping hand.
“I’m still living here in Charlotte, and I live so close, so I thought I might as well come out and serve my community,” Watts says.
More than 13,000 families were evicted from their homes in 2020, and the added financial pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic has more people looking for help.
“We’ve seen people that have apartments but cannot afford food,” Sutherland says.
But it’s not just rice and beans and a hot dog, it’s friendships. Sutherland says the bonds are the first steps in helping someone get back on their feet.
“I sat with a woman 30 minutes ago, and she said ‘I feel invisible. I’ve had people walk by me and not even pay attention that I’m sitting here.’ Every time that happens it steals dignity from them. So hopefully by us serving them, loving on them, knowing their names, and embracing them, it helps restore some of that and that’s our hope.”
The time a person is staying in a shelter before getting housing has increased by 52 days since 2015.
Mecklenburg County Community Support Services also says in order for a person making minimum wage to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Charlotte, they would have to work 113 hours a week.