Remembering ‘something magical’

Jan. 21, 2014 @ 05:40 PM

For more than two decades, Phoenix House has helped countless men regain their footing, move off the streets and wean themselves from homelessness.

The transitional house helped single young men – then, as now, a predominant demographic among those without homes – graduate from a homeless shelter where they might have sought refuge for a night or a few nights – often multiple times.

It was a way station while they turned their lives around and prepared to move into permanent homes.

“There was a need for a next-step kind of program to assist people to make the transition to living independently in the community,” said Terry Allebaugh. Allebaugh, who then was director of the emergency homeless shelter operated by Urban Ministries, was himself transitioning to founder and executive director of Housing for New Hope, which incorporated a year after Phoenix House, which it operates, opened.

Times change, however, as do needs and funding streams.

Next month, Phoenix House will close its doors.

The number of transitional options for single men has grown since Phoenix House uniquely filled a need. The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has provided half the operating funds for the house, is shifting priorities for dealing with homelessness. And Housing for New Hope itself has been adapting its approach.

“The emphasis is upon homeless people accessing permanent housing as soon as possible,” Allebaugh said. “You want to try to shorten the length of stay and time and duration that people are homeless.

Phoenix House will leave a rich legacy of community service when it closes its doors.

Just ask people like Sam Whitted, who told The Herald-Sun’s Laura Oleniacz last week he probably would be dead now were it not for Phoenix House.

He was, he recalled, selling drugs and living on the streets. Released from jail, he ended up at Phoenix House where, he said, he turned his life around and found a job. After six years with a Winn-Dixie grocery store, he now works for Housing for New Hope and is on its board of directors.

Hearing Phoenix House is closing brought him to tears, he told Oleniacz. “We always believed there was something magical about the house that made us stay there,” he said.

Sam Fisher, a former resident – and now the house’s residential manager – praised “the structure and ability to get a balance of what I needed to be productive, to make the right choices.”

Housing for New Hope officials are working to find alternatives for the facility’s residents. “Nobody’s going to be rendered homeless by this,” Allebaugh said.

We understand shifting needs and the evolution of philosophies on how best to combat a challenge like homelessness. We are confident Housing for New Hope and the myriad other groups in Durham attacking the problem will continue to chip away.

Perhaps the best perspective comes from Whitted, the former resident, who said he is confident that “out of the ashes rises another phoenix.”

We share his optimism.