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surfermaw Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-19-04 09:40 AM
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Crisis agencies deluged, more poor need help
Crisis agencies deluged, more poor need help

DAVID PERLMUTT

Staff Writer


As Pete Bondi approached his office at 7:15 a.m. Monday, he found a scene that instantly left him unsettled.

Bondi is financial director for Charlotte's Crisis Assistance Ministry, the nonprofit agency that provides financial aid to poor people for rent or mortgage payments or utilities such as electricity and natural gas.

On a typical day the past three months, the agency has seen 144 people. But standing outside in the chill air, Bondi saw a line winding around the building 198 families long -- a record that startled even longtime workers and volunteers. "I thought, `If this is a harbinger of things to come, we and our clients are in big trouble,' " said Bondi, eight years with the agency. "No one can remember the line being that long. If it continues, we are in for a long, hard winter."

Many blame the spike at Crisis Assistance and other Carolinas agencies on the recent chilly nights and a wobbly economy that makes it hardest for the poor to find stable financial footing.

"Workers who are in low-wage jobs have not seen a hint of the economic recovery," executive director Carol Hughes said. "Their wages are not being increased, and their hours are still being cut back.

"Many had already had their gas and electricity turned off this summer. ... This weekend made them realize they will not be able to go much longer -- especially if they have children."

Normally in the fall, the agency sees an uptick in requests for help, but nowhere near the numbers it saw Monday.

With the crush, workers and volunteers started triage, screening those in line and assessing their problems and immediate needs, Hughes said. If clients could return, they were set up with appointments.

The numbers likely will force the agency to decrease the maximum amount of yearly assistance from $200 to $150, possibly by week's end, Bondi said.

Crisis Assistance wasn't the only agency seeing its services increase.

Agencies that get referrals from Crisis Assistance are bracing for similar spikes this week.

At Loaves & Fishes, an emergency pantry in Charlotte, a spike would be on top of a 14 percent increase for food help over last year, said executive director Beverly Howard, whose agency provides clients with a week's worth of food, or 21 meals.

"Our numbers are totally dependent on referring agencies, and if they're getting those kinds of numbers at Crisis, we will see them in a few days," Howard said.

Since April, the Salvation Army's shelter has been beyond its capacity of 130 women and children -- with more than 200 a night.

"For the first time, regrettably, we are having to turn people away," said Maj. Ward Matthews, executive director of the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte. "We simply don't have the space to put them.

"In the past, we could stand to go a little over 200 and take all comers. Now, if we took all comers, we'd be in the 260 range, and you just can't line up people on the floor any more. You can't make a difference in people's lives if they're being warehoused."

At Statesville's Fifth Street Shelter Ministries, the numbers began spiking two years ago and haven't declined, said Patti West, who runs the shelter with husband Gary.

Typically, West said, the shelter's population booms during the summer, then declines after schools start.

"What's new here is that we're not seeing the decline this year," she said. "We're just seeing more people. And the ones who come to us are having to stay longer before they can get back on their feet."

In Union County, more people are seeking help with power bills from Operation Reach-Out.

"I can't really say that all of a sudden it's because of the cold, because it hasn't been cold yet," said Lisa Cox, director of operations. "But if that's the case, we're really in trouble."

Likewise, People Attempting to Help, a nonprofit based in York, S.C., has seen needs grow tremendously the past year, director Larry Edson said.

The group yearly helps about 14,000 needy residents with food, clothing and financial assistance.

"With the economy the way it is, people are coming in droves for food," Edson said. "It's a scary situation. It really is."

-- STAFF WRITERS NICHOLE BELL, HOWIE PAUL HARTNETT AND LENA WARMACK CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE.

Reach David Perlmutt: (704) 358-5061; dperlmutt@charlotteobserver.com . --

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OneBlueSky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-19-04 10:02 AM
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1. gee . . . wonder why all these people aren't being helped by . . .
"faith-based" programs . . .
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OutsourceBush Donating Member (860 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-19-04 10:11 AM
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2. Compassionate Conservatives must not be aware of these isolated
people in need. I am sure Republicans would be there to help otherwise. To offer compassion, jobs, food and shelter. yea right!

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Lydia Leftcoast Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-19-04 10:20 AM
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3. Last time I volunteered at our church's dinner for the homeless/poor
all the regular volunteers were talking about how the numbers had grown.

Usually they've had enough food ready to offer seconds to anyone who wants them. This time, they ran low on chicken and vegetables and just barely managed to give everyone a first serving.

By the way, the people who come are not only your typical hardcore homeless population, but also elderly, families with children, and middle-aged people who look as if they've seen better days.

My church is a liberal parish in the city, but I have to wonder what all those fundamentalist megachurches in the outer suburbs are actually doing for the poor, for all their talk of "faith-based initiative."
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