Nonprofit Housing for New Hope to close Phoenix House
If it wasn’t for the Phoenix House, Sam Whitted said he’d be a dead man.
Whitted, now 60, turned to the home on Holloway Street years ago to get back on his feet after he was released from the Durham County Detention Facility. He said had gotten into trouble after selling and using drugs and was wandering the streets.
Through the Phoenix House’s residential program for single men working through addictions, Whitted said he ended up getting a job working at a Winn-Dixie grocery store in Durham. When the grocery store closed after he’d worked there for six years, he was the store’s closing manager. The Phoenix House program had given him the structure he needed to turn his life around, he said.
Whitted is now on the Board of Directors for Housing for New Hope, the nonprofit that operates the Phoenix House, and he also works for the organization. He said he’s returned to the home to give encouragement to other residents. But when he heard officially that nonprofit officials had decided to close the program, it brought him to tears.
“We always believed there was something magical about the house that made us stay here,” Whitted said.
Housing for New Hope is closing the Phoenix House this spring, said Terry Allebaugh, the nonprofit’s executive director. It’s targeted to close in February, but may stay open a month or so after that, he said. The closing depends on the timing of the home’s sale and other factors.
The Phoenix House had first opened its doors in 1992, a year before the nonprofit was actually incorporated in 1993, said Allebaugh, who is also the founder of Housing for New Hope. He said he was the director of the emergency homeless shelter in Durham at the time, and he saw a need for transitional housing for single men.
“The majority of homeless people, then and now, are still single and homeless men,” Allebaugh said. “There was a need for a next-step kind of program to assistant people to make the transition to living independently in the community.”
The program has provided a place for men to stay, he said, while working, mainly, through 12-step peer-to-peer Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous programs. For the men in the program how, Allebaugh said nonprofit officials are working to find them alternative housing.
“Nobody’s gong to be rendered homeless by this,” he said.
The home is closing as the number of residential options for single men has grown in Durham, Allebaugh said, and as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which he said has provided half of the Phoenix House’s funding, has moved away from wanting to provide funding for transitional housing programs.
“They have just moved toward other models of support,” he said.
There are fewer transitional housing options for homeless women in the city, he said, so Housing for New Hope’s home for women, called the Dove House, will remain open.
The nonprofit also has three other properties besides those two, all of which provide permanent housing. He said permanent housing is now the focus of programs serving the homeless.
“It’s been a wonderful thing -- we’re very proud of what (the Phoenix House has) accomplished -- but times have changed around us in terms of what research has shown and also what funding is available for what approaches,” Allebaugh said. “The emphasis is upon homeless people accessing permanent housing as soon as possible. You want to try to shorten the length of stay and time and duration that people are homeless and you want them to help the access their own housing.”
The news of the closing drew emotion from Sam Fisher, a 56-year-old graduate of the program who is now the home’s residential manager. Fisher said he had been living at Urban Ministries of Durham’s emergency shelter when he applied for Housing for New Hope’s transitional housing program. He said he felt it was what he needed.
He graduated from the program in 2000, and on May 6, he said he’ll have reached 14 years of sobriety. He ticked off a list of jobs he’s held since his graduation, and said he wanted to leave a high-paying job to return to work at the Phoenix House.
“It was the structure and ability to get a balance of what I needed to be productive, and make the right choices,” Fisher said.
Whitted said he was “very saddened” about the closing. He said the home provided structure and camaraderie, and taught him about living with other people, in addition to helping him find a job.
And although he had a college degree from N.C. Central University, he had three felony convictions on his record, and initially had trouble finding work. He recalled that he was turned down for a job at a Bojangles’ restaurant.
“It’s amazing the opportunity this home has provided,” he said, listing the work that other graduates have gone on to do.
Whitted said he consoles himself by thinking that “out of the ashes rises another phoenix.”
“I know in my heart that a phoenix is going to rise out of this somewhere,” he said.