Melina, Charlotte

Walking down the long hallway of a brand-new apartment complex in Charlotte, you can see the door belonging to Melina, a 48-year-old mother of four. It’s one of the only ones with a welcome mat reading “Home Sweet Home.”

“You have to believe in yourself first and then everyone else will believe in you. It’s not like you’re less of a person because you’re homeless.” — Melina

Her case worker gave it to her the day she moved in. There’s not a scuff on the walls. It’s got the unmistakable smell of fresh paint and new carpet. Frankly, it’s a beautiful place to call home – and Melina, who was recently homeless, is especially proud to do so.

She’s beaming as she unlocks the door and floats between her favorite parts of her home – deep cabinets for pots, pans, and a crock pot, bar stools, and a balcony where the morning sun is pouring in. Behind a closed door, she reveals one of her favorite amenities — a stacked washer and dryer. It’s a fresh start – and a foundation.

Melina found herself unhoused after a divorce and raising four kids alone took their toll. As the older kids gained independence, she faced more financial burden than she could carry alone.

“It started taking a downward spiral,” said Melina. “It was just me raising kids.”

Family members helped on occasion, but she was days away from sleeping in her car when accepted into a Charlotte Family Housing shelter late last year.

“That’s when happiness started,” she said. “Bricks just fell away.”

They would continue to fall away.

Fewer than 90 days after entering the shelter and two weeks before Christmas, Melina qualified for Lotus Campaign’s Landlord Participation Program. It’s a first-of-its-kind collaboration between social service organizations and willing landlords. In this case, that’s Charlotte Family Housing and Grubb Properties. The goal is to bring together those who need housing with those who have available units by removing insurmountable barriers.

By guaranteeing rent and providing economic incentives to help offset credit checks and rental histories, Lotus removes the risk for landlords to rent to people with histories like Melina’s. What’s more: Intentional characteristics built into the model make it more likely that participants will break the often-unrelenting cycle of homelessness.

Lotus partners with landlords who have properties in zip codes featuring well-resourced schools, access to public transportation, jobs, and at least one grocery store within a mile radius. Participants also have a case manager providing ongoing resources and support. These components have made it possible for nearly 400 program participants to not just remain housed but to rebuild their lives holistically.

It’s what Melina has been doing. She currently works for Door Dash, which her centrally located apartment allows to be lucrative.

She’s considering getting back into cosmetology — something she did for more than a decade.

On the road to rebuilding, there have been plenty of firsts. This was the first time she signed a lease on her own.

“That was so exciting,” said Melina. “Now it’s really just me, signing just my name. That’s powerful.”

Her 15-year-old teenage daughter – who is transgender – has her own room and bathroom for the first time in her life.

And they have a support system.

Melina’s case manager Marissa is in close connection to ensure she has what’s needed to continue to thrive. Sometimes that support comes in the form of coordinating the donation of a piece of furniture. Other times it’s a workshop on financial literacy. And there are many simple phone calls. “She’s so resilient and hard working,” said Marissa. “I’m thrilled to be a part of this journey with her.”

Some days, Melina still can’t believe it. “Are you all setting me up?” she laughs. “I’m waiting for the setup. This is too good to be true.”

But even if she doesn’t always believe it to be true, she knows she’s worthy – as are others who are experiencing what she did.

“Don’t just say I’ll just give up,” said Melina. “You have to believe in yourself first and then everyone else will believe in you. It’s not like you’re less of a person because you’re homeless.”

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