Count of homeless rises for second straight year

Feb. 22, 2013 @ 05:24 PM

An annual single-night count of Durham’s homeless late in January recorded another increase, the numbers of those staying in shelters, transitional housing or on the streets rising to at least 759 people.

Friday’s report from the city’s Community Development Department and the city/county Homeless Services Advisory Committee documented the second year-to-year increase of the total in as many years.

The overall count announced by Community Development Director Reginald Johnson was 8.7 percent higher than 2012’s finding of 698 homeless people.

But officials and nonprofit leaders voiced confidence that help is coming because of the recent decision to fund with local money a “rapid rehousing” program to provide short-term aid to those at risk of becoming homeless along with help in finding housing for those that have.

“Our mission is to keep the experiences of homeless brief and infrequent, by trying to move people quickly from that moment when they become without a home back into permanent housing,” said Bo Glenn, chairman of the Homeless Services Advisory Committee.

Local officials orchestrate the count each year to meet U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations. It’s always held on a single night, and targets those living in shelters or in places the federal government deems unfit for human habitation.

This year’s nationwide “point in time” count unfolded on Jan. 30, which in Durham was a rainy night. Officials said that weather might have affected the number of people they found living on the streets.

In 2012, the count found 63 homeless on the streets, versus 53 this year.

The rain this year likely contributed to the drop by prompting some people to seek shelter with friends or in places out of reach of volunteer counters, said committee and Durham school board member Minnie Forte-Brown.

“One night, the nation counts,” she said. “No way does that say we’ve counted everybody.”

Nonprofit groups reported that there were also 284 people staying in emergency shelters and 422 people in “transitional housing,” halfway-house-type arrangements for people who receive aid or treatment as they seek a permanent place to stay.

There were 298 people in shelters last year and 337 people in transitional housing.

Nearly half – 49 percent or 345 people – of those who were in shelters or transitional housing on Jan. 30 this year were staying at the Durham Rescue Mission, according to figures supplied by mission founder Ernie Mills.

The increase “is just unbelievable, very hard to comprehend sometimes,” Mills said, adding that his group overspent its budget by 9 percent in the last year as it worked to accommodate demand for its services. “But the economy is bad.”

Local officials relay their annual findings to HUD and the N.C. Coalition to End Homelessness. The statewide group usually makes available numbers from other counties to use in comparisons, but so far it hasn’t posted any 2013 numbers on its Web site.

The rapid-rehousing program essentially resurrects an effort local officials originally started using funds from the 2009 federal economic-stimulus bill. The City Council recently approved a grant of local money to Housing for New Hope, the group Johnson’s department picked to run the rehousing effort.

The original, stimulus-funded program “enabled us to establish some good systems in our community” by encouraging local-government agencies, nonprofits and churches to work together, said Terry Allebaugh, Housing for New Hope’s executive director.

Allebaugh added that those networks proved helpful late last year when a closure decision forced low-income tenants of the 150-unit Lincoln Apartments complex near N.C. Central University to find new homes on relatively short notice.

Housing for New Hope and church groups worked with the tenants to help their search, and to provide financial aid for security deposits and first-months rent. The effort likely prevented a much-larger spike in the point-in-time homeless count, Allebaugh said.

Lincoln Apartments is now the property of the Durham Housing Authority, which announced this week that all the units there are vacant and boarded up.