It is October, and that means I am half way through my two month long artist-in-residence program here in Charlotte, North Carolina at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation. This is the view of the area from the cathedral balcony of the McColl. AMAZING.
My residency is part of the Rasmuson Foundation’s residency program which pairs four Alaskan residency locations with four lower forty-eight residency programs. You can read more about this program by clicking here, here, and here.
One of the unique things about the McColl Center’s residency program is their commitment to engaging the visiting artist with the community of Charlotte in a meaningful way. Early on, we determined that I would make community quilt as part of my residency. Of course, right? It’s part of what I do. Here is the community McCarthy Solstice that I completed last summer.
Before I tell you more about what kind of community quilt I will be making, I need to tell you what I was doing 10 years ago at this time. I was, of course, quilting and a mother of three–those things have remained the same. But I was also teaching women’s studies, journalism, and creative writing at Prince William Sound Community College, and I was working as an advocate at Advocates for Victims of Violence (AVV).
AVV is a women’s shelter located in Valdez, Alaska. It is a small shelter with full services including legal and emotional counseling, a crisis hotline, and educational programing. As an advocate, I answered the crisis hotline, and I worked overnight when we had women and children in shelter. AVV serves a small population, but a large land area–about the size of Ohio. When we had clients in shelter, I would set up a sewing area and work on quilts while I chatted with the women. For most of the women, this was a safe environment for us to talk and share stories. For some of the women, it was also a chance to learn how to quilt and make things with their hands. From that experience and others, I have come to realize that making is a very therapeutic action especially when the end result is something which can be used.
All of this is to say, that this is just one more example of my life circling around particular ideas over and over again. Across time these ideas begin to connect to each other and give themselves–myself–larger meaning.
Once I got to Charlotte, we had a formal discussion about me making a community quilt with the residents of Moore Place.
What is Moore Place? Before I tell you about Moore Place, I need to tell you about the Urban Ministry Center. It all started in 1979, when St. Peter’s Episcopal Church opened The Soup Kitchen. The Soup Kitchen serves lunch 365 days a year, with no questions asked. If you need a hot meal, they will serve you one.
In 1994, the Soup Kitchen moved to this old train depot and became part of the Urban Ministry Center (UMC). The depot is now a hub of support services for Charlotte’s homeless.
The UMC is an interfaith organization (more than 130 different faiths working together) focused on the goal of ending homelessness in Charlotte. In 2006, UMC built a building across the street from the train depot and expanded their services to include hot showers, laundry services, telephone & mail, medical care, and support groups.
Under the UMC umbrella are several other programs including their HousingWorks program. HousingWorks believes in an evidence-based practice called Housing First also known as Permanent Supportive Housing. It is a simple idea with powerful results–give the chronically homeless housing. Once they have a home, they can then begin to address many of the issues that are the root causes of homelessness–mental and physical disabilities, addiction and abuse, and unemployment. Think about it. If you were homeless how healthy would your diet be? how likely would you be able to hold down a job? how emotionally stable would you feel?
In February 2012, UMC and HousingWorks opened up Moore Place–an 85-unit apartment building to house 85 individuals who had been identified as chronically homeless. These individuals had been homeless for more than a year, or at least four times in the past three years, and were also living with a disability. And more than half of them had at least one vulnerability factor which placed them at higher risk for dying on the street.
Through research, Housing First has documented that a chronically homeless person costs a community on average $39,000 in hospital, shelter, jail, and ER fees. A Moore Resident costs the community only $13,983 a year, and this price tag includes services that actually HELP the individual work towards a healthier life and employment.
This past spring, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte released a study of the Moore Place Residents. The study found that, in its first year, Moore Place Tenants saved $1.8 million in health care costs, with 447 fewer emergency room visits ( 78% reduction) and 372 fewer days in the hospital (a 79% reduction). This is all to say, if you can’t support giving the chronically homeless housing with your heart, you might just be able to justify it with your wallet. Either way, everyone wins.
Many of the first residents of Moore Place are still there and, with the help of wrap around services, are day by day working through the obstacles life has presented them with. Three of my stitchers have begun taking classes to get their GEDs! That doesn’t happen when you are living under bridge.
Several Tuesdays ago, I showed up at Moore Place with a couple of sewing machines and two giant boxes of fabric.
I know that fabric and sewing machines and the opportunity to create can really make people happy . I have seen it happen again and again. What happened at Moore Place was no different. I think I’ve helped about 20 residents make 30-40 pillow cases over the past three weeks. Interestingly, Moore Place pillow case stitchers are about 65% women and 35% men–it appears that everyone could use a pillow case.
We’ve also begun the conversation about creating a community quilt together. We are tentatively calling the quilt Journey to Moore Place. Our hope is that the quilt will document the residents journey from living on the street to finding a home.
I am super excited to say that tomorrow we start building the quilt blocks.