POLITICS
09/04/2012 11:42 am ET Updated Sep 04, 2012

One Homeless Charlotte Family Struggles To Rise In DNC's Shadow

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In mid-February, Sheron Young, 39, moved from Columbus, Ga., to Charlotte to follow her dream of becoming a chef. She arrived by train in the Queen City with her four children and a plan to enroll in Johnson & Wales University, the famed cooking school.

Young's dream spoiled fast. She had made arrangements to live with a cousin, who never mentioned her own financial problems. When the cousin was evicted four days later, Young and her children were on the street, still strangers in their new city.

Young was forced to spend her rainy-day funds on a two-week hotel stay. When the money ran out, she and the children ended up in city shelters.

"Everything wasn't going as planned," Young's son Justin told The Huffington Post in March.

Unplanned plummets into homelessness have become a trend in Charlotte, a city best known for its financial industry. The success of uptown's high finance for years tended to overshadow the city's too small stock of affordable housing and a committed yet scattered and underfunded church-based social services network. City and county investments in homeless services never quite met the demand. When the financial downturn hit hard and spoiled the city's urban renaissance, a flood of homeless families overwhelmed the already fragile system. Scant subsidies and prayer could only do so much.

In 2010, Charlotte saw a 36-percent jump in family homelessness. The numbers increased another 21 percent the following year, according to a report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a nonpartisan policy group that includes mayors of large and midsized cities.

Six months after HuffPost first chronicled Young's story, I caught up with her on Monday night at the Salvation Army's Center of Hope, a women and children's shelter located a good distance from downtown but with what Young described as the best view around. The city's skyline sparkles just outside her window. Inside, the shelter is so full that some families are forced to sleep on cots in the cafeteria.

In early June, Young said, she finally found part-time work as a vendor at Walmart showing off products like cleaning sprays and microwaveable taquitos. She later added a full-time job as a car salesman at a Kia dealership -- a job she had left behind in Georgia. Within a few months, she's been able to save enough for a security deposit on a subsidized house that she hopes to move into soon.

It's been a hard climb out of the shelter. Young had to learn quickly about Charlotte's child-care programs for little Joi, GED classes for Chamir and a high school for Justin. Everything else was a $2 bus ride away.

Young's family splintered into three shelters. She spent her days in libraries scouring the want ads for jobs and shuttling to various nonprofits and government agencies promising a stable future. At times, it seemed like the whole city was standing in line ahead of her.

"You go some place for help and there's like 150 people already there that need the same thing you need," Young said. "So it's overwhelming, the number of people in this city that are broke and homeless. It's ridiculous how many people live here with kids."

Young said she started thinking about returning to Georgia in May or June. The fatigue of constant rejection and the constant hustle for the smallest crumbs began to take a toll. Desperation started to feel like a lifestyle choice. "In May, I was like, 'Look, I will go to Home Depot and buy a shovel if you would just let me shovel some shit somewhere. I don't care,'" she recalled. "I just want a job. Somebody pay me to do something. I'll work anywhere."

On weekends, Young and her family found refuge in a Barnes & Noble store at the Carolina Place Mall. "We're book people," she said. They would spend entire days there reading. Her children devoured James Patterson's "Witch & Wizard" series. She devoured T.D. Jakes' inspirational tomes and Zig Ziglar's more down-to-earth "The Secrets of Closing the Sale." She ended up buying the Ziglar book.

They would go to dollar movies. "I slept through most of them," Young said. Her children got to see "Brave."

And they especially liked a park off West Boulevard. "They have organized kickball games," she said. "They have teams that play kickball. Who plays organized kickball?"

Young and her family watched the kickball games for hours from the sideline. She wondered why she only saw adults at the park. Without a job, she said, she felt "like an outsider."

But now with her two jobs, Young has enrolled in a local community college. Her daughter recently received her GED and enlisted in the National Guard. Justin plans to graduate from high school in December.

And Young will finally move her family into their very own Charlotte address -- maybe by mid-September. They're just waiting for an inspection, she said.

"I'm just not a quitter," Young said. "That's the only reason I didn't leave."

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