The problem with crises is they come when you least expect them and find a way to make existing problems even worse. The COVID-19 pandemic heightened an issue that Charlotte-Mecklenburg had been facing for years- housing instability and homelessness. In this time of crisis even more of our neighbors struggled to meet their most vital needs like food, shelter and safety, while the providers in our shelter system had to limit their intake of clients due to social distancing and in some instances move people out due to overcrowding.


On a federal level, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made billions of dollars available to state and local governments via Homeless Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) to address the situation.  To be eligible for this funding, governments are required to consult with their local Continuum of Care (COC) program, which helps coordinate services for those experiencing homelessness in their jurisdictions.  The COC program for Mecklenburg County is currently chaired by Dr. Kathryn Firmin-Sellers, Chief Impact Officer at United Way of Central Carolinas.


The ESG program focuses on Housing First. In this unique partnership, individuals and families experiencing a housing crisis or homelessness are connected to Socialserve, a nonprofit organization that specializes in finding available apartments and homes. Once in more permanent housing, individuals and families have access to frontline agencies that provide wraparound services to address underlying issues.


United Way is managing three ESG grants—two through the city and one through the state—by helping ensure that our participating nonprofit partners are compliant with federal regulations and have the back-office support they need to distribute the funds effectively. We also serve as a “one-stop shop” for our contacts at the city and state who are ultimately responsible for these programs.


“United Way’s NC 211 serves as the entry point for our COC’s Coordinated Entry system.  It’s the ‘front door’ through which those experiencing housing instability or homelessness connect to available resources,” said Kathryn Firmin-Sellers. “Through our unique position in the community and the generosity of our donors, United Way is able to support the goals of the city, state and our partner agencies.”


To date, this work has secured homes and apartments for nearly 100 households, as well as provided clients with donations of furniture, hygiene and personal care items.


As a community, the first step to solving complex issues such as homelessness is awareness. November is National Homeless Awareness Month. Here are a few ways you can get involved:



Take a deeper look into United Way’s work to address homelessness in this Team United Spotlight by Kathryn Firmin-Sellers.