Charlotte has one of North Carolina’s highest per capita income levels and is the third fastest growing municipality in the country. But, it also has its share of poverty. Over the past decade, the number of Charlotte residents living in poverty nearly doubled – the third sharpest increase in the nation. Recent reports indicate that 64,000 residents now live in extreme poverty.
Some of these individuals have been laid off from jobs, others have experienced unexpected divorce or fled abusive marriages, and many simply hit an unexpected “bump in the road” that caused bills to pile up. For families surviving at poverty level, something as common as a car breakdown, an illness, or the loss of a few days wages can create havoc in a carefully balanced budget. When that happens, they turn to Crisis Assistance Ministry, a nonprofit that provides emergency rent and utility assistance, clothing, household goods and furniture to the working poor.
Crisis Assistance Ministry was founded in 1975, when faith leaders in the community came together and decided the city needed a central place to send all of the people showing up at their doors. Over time, as other public and private entities stepped in to assist, they built on and consolidated what existed within Crisis Assistance Ministry, rather than duplicating services that were already being provided. As CEO Carol Hardison says, “That doesn’t mean you can’t walk up to a local church and get a little help in a pinch, but Crisis Assistance Ministry really people in the community by serving as a one-stop shop and then a comprehensive resource center for empowering people to achieve economic mobility.”
It’s a model that’s relatively unique nationally. Hardison says it works well for landlords and utility companies to have a central place to go to resolve issues and prevent someone from becoming homeless. This consolidation of services also means the agency serves a lot of people: Crisis Assistance Ministry sees about 200 families per day and served 63,207 people in 2014.
As difficult as the recent recession was for many nonprofits, Hardison says it created an opportunity for Crisis Assistance Ministry in that many people gained greater empathy for those at the brink of financial disaster. But, she says, the economy’s rebound caused this window of understanding to close quickly. One of the agency’s biggest challenges now is continuing to educate people about the disaster occurring every day in the lives of their neighbors.
Funding and training through Bank of America’s Neighborhood Builders program has helped tremendously. Crisis Assistance Ministry leveraged the funding received in 2005 and 2012 as a Neighborhood Builder to raise credibility and awareness among other stakeholders. And, the unrestricted funding enabled the agency to do things nonprofits rarely have the resources to – plan strategically and improve business processes. Hardison says these activities have been critical in preparing the agency for its continued growth trajectory, so they can serve many more people in crisis.
Bank of America has supported Crisis Assistance Ministry since 1996 by providing over $1.29 million in financial support and countless employee volunteer hours. They have developed and expanded financial stability programming and homeless prevention efforts to Hardison says are “more than just a band-aid approach. Instead, they work to find the “root cause” of the financial crisis and make sure that people don’t get trapped in chronic poverty. One working mother who benefitted from the program called recently to say, “I’m calling to thank you. Because even though I just got laid off, I won’t need more assistance. Because of what you taught me, I have savings to get by until I find a new job.” For those working to end poverty and homelessness, that’s the greatest call they can receive.