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Amateur Parker

News thatís Fit to Print

March, 2020

Melissa Bean Sterzick

I can barely read the news these days. And I’m a journalist, so that’s saying a lot. Bad news, bad “news,” and badly written “news” are all good reasons to take a break from the headlines. But a really great piece of news reached me recently. 


A car dealer in North Carolina named James Charles is offering parking for homeless people who live in their cars. The family-owned and operated Kiplin Automotive Group has an empty lot adjacent to its sales lot. That’s where they are offering shelter for displaced individuals and families.


The city of Charlotte organizes a winter program to provide a measure of food and shelter for those who are homeless and displaced, James says, and once it ends in March, he expects to have a full lot. 


He’s been told there are currently 100 people taking advantage of the city’s program. In the meantime, he is preparing. Recent news coverage has drawn overwhelming support for his plan to help the homeless.


“I have had a number of phone calls to see if this is real. I’ve received hundreds of phone calls of people thanking me for what I’m doing. My current phone system can’t handle the number of calls coming in from people saying ‘How can I help?’ ‘What can I do?’ and ‘Please, tell me how I can be part of what you’re doing.’ I’m amazed by the amount of people that are calling saying ‘I want to be part of this,’ ‘I will volunteer my time,’ “I will volunteer my knowledge,’” James says.


James has heard from individuals from Texas, Michigan, and California. Locals with rooms to rent are contacting him. An accountant has offered to manage the financials free of charge. Nurses from the area have stopped by to pledge support. People are dropping off blankets and food. The police have loaned a light tower for the lot. And someone has suggested an Amazon wish list to handle donations and deliveries.


“We are collecting a lot of names and numbers right now so that when the flood gates open, we won’t be alone in managing the entire process. I’m sure that the time is going to come that it’s going to get really busy. My goal is to get them out of their cars and into a room or an apartment as quickly as possible,” James says. 


“We have a motivation, obviously. We may fall in love with them, but we want to find them a place to live.”


James’ own experiences seeing what being displaced is like are what motivated him to take this step. He once sent an employee to repossess a vehicle and the employee came back unsuccessful. The employee said he couldn’t repossess the car because someone was living in it. 


James looked into the situation further and found a woman who was employed, but couldn’t afford her rent. He offered her a place to park and help finding a rental.


“After running in to her, that’s when we realized there was a major homeless situation. If this could happen to the average person, how many other people like her are out there?” he says.


Not long after, James and his family experienced firsthand how easy it is to become displaced. They were renting a home when its owners decided to sell. The management company did not inform James, but instead posted an eviction notice.


He and his family found themselves moving from hotel to hotel for a month. James said the situation was highly stressful – his children were in school and some nights they didn’t get in to a room until midnight. 


After a month, they found a long-term hotel room where they stayed for two months until they found a home to rent. The school district stepped in to offer busing, food and school supplies for his family.


“The program was for families who are displaced. We fell right into that category. Even though we told them we didn’t need it, they said we met the criteria and they were going to help. We were thankful,” James says.


James says his number one goal is to get people off the street. Other than that, he’d like to inspire others to use their resources to help those in need. He wants to be an example of the good work a small business can do.


 “We could do something super significant here. There’s a verse in the Bible that says ‘all things work for the good of them that love.’ You never know when you’re going to be able to draw on your own tough time to help somebody else.”


I talked to James for 40 minutes and he reminded me why I love being a journalist. Everything he said was good news.


 



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