Liz Clasen-Kelly, CEO of Roof Above, is seeing a surge in demand for the housing and homelessness nonprofit's services. During a recent interview with CBJ, she said homelessness had improved during the first part of the pandemic but numbers have been slowly rising. “Demand is higher than it’s been.”

And as federal recovery money is beginning to run out that demand is expected to grow. Roof Above, which works on transitional and longer-term supported housing in addition to its three shelters, a substance-abuse program and a day services center, has had to adjust its own planning to accommodate the surge and funding challenges.

Hotels used as emergency shelters, largely because of available federal relief money, are no longer an option. Roof Above has, in recent months, transitioned back to its congregate buildings for emergency shelter, Clasen-Kelly said.

In September, Roof Above opened the Howard Levine Men’s Shelter on Statesville Avenue, named for its lead donor and former Family Dollar CEO. The $4.9 million shelter has 164 beds. The new facility was expected to replace the Lucille Giles Center, also on Statesville Road. Rising demand instead forced Roof Above to keep the Giles Center in use. The nonprofit’s third shelter is a 260-bed facility on North Tryon Street.

Demand for beds is likely to intensify as federal pandemic eviction moratoriums and recovery funding for rental assistance taper off, Clasen-Kelly said.

The homeless population increased by 55% to 3,137 people between June 2020 and June 2021, according to the latest annual housing instability and homelessness report by UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute and Mecklenburg County. Overall, Roof Above has increased its full- and part-time staff by 25% since 2019 to 192 people.

Roof Above has benefited from a donation by local firm GPS to better clean the air and reduce particles, including those carrying the virus that causes Covid-19. GPS donated air-filtration equipment and installation services at all three of the nonprofit’s shelters — shelters that collectively house 540 people, with 100 more people working in those facilities. “Through a partnership with Roof Above, GPS was able to donate our technology to help those in our community who are most vulnerable,” GPS CEO Glenn Brinckman said in a prepared statement.

Neither GPS nor Roof Above disclosed the value of the donation. Privately held GPS focuses on commercial customers.

Clasen-Kelly, referring to virus risks in congregate settings, told me, “Covid is not over. We have to continue to be vigilant. And anything we can do that increases safety is a good thing.”

With additional demand anticipated, and the likelihood of less recovery funding, donations such as the air-filtration system and LS3P’s gratis architectural design for the Levine shelter become more vital. Clasen-Kelly added that other companies have and are providing discounted products and services that have eased some budget pressures.

Roof Above’s budget is $17 million. Of that amount, $6.4 million comes from individual, corporate and nonprofit donors. The rest is a combination of local, state and federal funding.

Financial challenges are a constant: United Way of Central Carolinas awarded a grant of $195,000 for 2022, down from $300,000 this year. That resulted from a shift in focus for United Way grants toward neighborhood groups and greater diversity.

In September, Lowe’s Cos. Inc. (NYSE: LOW), through its foundation, donated $1 million to help Roof Above convert a former hotel into studio apartments. The future 88-unit apartment complex at Clanton Road and Interstate 77 is scheduled to open early in 2022.

Total cost, including acquisition and renovation, is $12 million. Lowe’s also provided appliances for the apartments at discounted prices.

Last year, Roof Above and Ascent Real Estate Capital bought a 341-unit apartment complex off Eastway Drive for $47.7 million. The apartments will provide naturally occurring affordable housing, defined as housing with below-market rental rates without any taxpayer subsidies.