Social Services Today

Homeless services at DSS
Aug. 10, 2013 @ 11:10 AM

In an ideal world, every family would have a place to call home.  Yet homelessness impacts families and children throughout the country, something that is also true in Durham. 

Durham’s Department of Social Services (DSS) works in close collaboration with community partners both to prevent families from becoming homeless and to help those who are homeless access permanent housing.  Whether we are taking measures to prevent homelessness, working on rapid re-housing for those who are homeless or trying to get people into transitional housing or a shelter, we know that community collaboration is key.  There is no “one size fits all” solution.

Durham is fortunate to have good coordination between the City and the County through the Homeless Services Advisory Committee, comprised of leaders from various part of the community. The Opening Doors to Prevent and End Homelessness in Durham program — a collaborative effort to end homelessness — is coordinated through the City of Durham’s Department of Community Development. Our local government leadership works together and pulls in other key stakeholders including Duke University, North Carolina Central University, Durham Technical Community College, Durham Housing Authority and community nonprofits.

One way that DSS supports homeless families is through our coordinated intake and assessment service, a program we piloted in the last fiscal year.  With coordinated intake, a DSS employee is responsible for conducting the intake process for homeless families in our community. After completing an assessment for each family, she enters the information into a shared database system — which community providers can review — and makes a referral to the appropriate family shelter.  

This coordinated intake system — which is recommended by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — has multiple benefits.  Homeless families have one central place they can go for help, instead of having to tell their story over and over to multiple shelter provider and the shelters can focus on providing services instead of fielding multiples assessing a family’s need. 

DSS also works to prevent families from becoming homeless in the first place.   There are times when families experience a sudden loss of income because of a job loss, a medical problem or some other unforeseen crisis. When a change in circumstances stops a low-income family’s ability to pay rent, they may qualify for emergency assistance if they are able to show that they will be able to continue paying their rent.

While there are basic rules of eligibility for our services, each family’s circumstances  are reviewed individually. We treat each family on a case-by-case basis, doing all we can to keep families safe and stable and by doing so we are able to determine which of the dozens of services offered by the DCDSS can help a family out of their crisis.

It will take a concerted effort of community leaders and concerned community members to end homelessness but I believe we can do it. Please join with us so that every child and adult has a bed to sleep in and roof over his or her head. To find out more, call the Opening Doors program at 919-560-8600. 

As the safety net provider for Durham County, DSS is here to help families and individuals in need. We have made learning about all of our services easier by creating a directory of all of the services we provide.  To learn about all of the services offered by the Durham County Department of Social Services please go to to get your free copy of our Service Directory. 

Michael A. Becketts is the director for Durham County Department of Social Services