North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness

Agencies combating homelessness daily

New Bern Sun Journal
Sue Book
October 22, 2010
 
TRENT WOODS — The problem of homelessness may seem a long way from small-town, rural North Carolina. But, in a point-in-time statewide count on Jan. 26, 2010, New Bern Police counted 12 people sleeping on the streets here and the only homeless shelter in four counties filled to capacity with 20 heads on beds.
 
Homelessness is here.
 
About 110 people from counties across Eastern North Carolina gathered in New Bern on Thursday for a Homelessness Summit hosted at Garber United Methodist Church by groups including Religious Community Services (RCS), East Carolina Council, Craven County Habitat for Humanity, the City of New Bern, and Neuse River Community Development Corporation.
 
Area agencies are attempting to deal with homelessness daily, looking for roofs for real people — often with children — and for more long-term solutions to a problem accented by today’s economy.
 
RCS Director Bobbie Hewlette said that organization’s shelter expanded from 12 beds to 20 in 2004, and “it’s rare that we have an empty bed. We have the only shelter in Craven, Pamlico or Jones counties and on any given night there are 40 to 50 people looking for a place to stay.”
 
Often, the numbers include families, and Mike McMillan, RCS shelter services director, said the shelter has housed “11 families in the last 12 months, including three at one time.”
 
Hewlette said, “When we have a family unit, most will stay there about 60 days. We have no ‘back-up’ off premises for the shelter beds.”
 
Statewide, the number of homeless has been fairly stable, even in this era of high unemployment, said Martha Are, program administrator for N.C. Economic Recovery and Investment, which is operated out of the N.C. Governor’s Office.
 
On a given day in all of North Carolina, there are about 10,000 people without a home, she said.
 
“Over 2,000 are children,” she said. “We have seen a decrease in single homeless people but an increase in families.”
 
Are said the overall stability over the past five or six years can be attributed to communities in the state starting programs to end homelessness, many dealing with individuals with disabilities.
 
The programs’ focus on single, often-disabled homeless came because they are the most expensive to deal with because they end up in jails or hospitals as de facto housing, she said.
 
Are advised those from groups like East Carolina Behavior Health, Hope Mission, area departments of social services and housing agencies that any real formula to end homelessness has to address the cause of the homelessness rather than just providing temporary shelter.
 
“Of everybody homeless at a given point-in-time count, 70 (percent) to 75 percent will be homeless for less than a month whether you help them or not,” she said. Identifying and dealing with roadblocks reuniting them with family often helps.
 
“Ten percent will stay homeless for six months and the final about 15 percent of the homeless fit the stereotype,” Are said. “When you look at them you know they are homeless and about 90 percent of them are disabled.”
 
“I don’t know when our society decided that it was OK for disabled people to live on the street but I think we’re waking up to the fact that it isn’t,” Are said.
 
“You have to recognize that you have limited resources,” she said, that can most effectively be used by finding long-term solutions that include getting help for those with disabilities.
 
Sue Book can be reached at 252-635-5665 or sbook@freedomenc.com.
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