Count finds 675 homeless in county
Housing advocates worry 26% increase could offset progress
By Ray Gronberg, The Herald-Sun
DURHAM -- A single-day count in late January found 140 more homeless people in Durham County than did a companion assessment in 2009.
The annual point-in-time count, orchestrated by the Durham Affordable Housing Coalition and conducted the night of Jan. 27-28, found 675 people who met the federal government's definition of being homeless.
Of those, 607 were in some sort of emergency or transition shelter, according to figures advocates have relayed to local officials and a statewide nonprofit.
The rest were staying in places the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development deems "unfit for human habitation," like cars, abandoned buildings, makeshift campsites or the streets.
A similar count last year found 535 homeless people in Durham County.
Housing advocates were expecting an increase, because of the economy. They worry, though, that the rising numbers could offset the progress they're making in offering aid.
"The Durham community is making improvements in transitioning people [into permanent housing], but we are challenged by the increasing numbers," said Lloyd Schmeidler, a spokesman for the county's 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.
Coalition leaders and elected officials are planning a news conference Thursday morning to discuss the count's results. The numbers, however, were available Tuesday from sources that included the Web site of the N.C. Coalition to End Homelessness, a statewide nonprofit.
The state coalition has also posted current and past-years reports from other urban communities in the state -- most notably Orange, Guilford, Forsyth and Mecklenburg counties.
Durham's peer counties also saw increases in homelessness compared to their 2009 counts, according to those reports.
But percentage-wise, Durham's year-to-year increase of 26 percent was somewhat larger than those of its peer or neighbor communities.
Orange County's count rose 16 percent, from 156 in 2009 to 181 this year. Forsyth County's figure increased 18 percent, from 465 to 547.
Mecklenburg County's reported total rose 14 percent, from 2,481 to 2,824. Guilford County's was nearly flat, rising 1 percent from 1,052 last year to 1,064 this year.
Figures from this year's single-night count in Wake County were unavailable as of Tuesday evening.
The homeless counts from Durham, Guilford and Mecklenburg counties are roughly similar, after accounting for the differences in their overall populations. Homelessness is somewhat less common in Forsyth and Orange counties, again accounting for overall population differences.
Schmeidler said activists have studied the numbers from previous counts and noted that Durham's numbers have been roughly in line with those from urban areas of North Carolina.
"We're not the Mecca for homeless people that sometimes people would like to portray Durham as," he said.
The county-by-county reports also offer some detail on who's homeless.
In Durham, for example, some 12 percent of the homeless this year were children -- same as in 2008 and 2009. The counters found 84 kids, all but one in an established shelter allowing short- or long-term stays.
About 13 percent of this year's homeless adults rated as having serious mental illnesses, and 40 percent had a diagnosab le substance-abuse problem. But those percentages were both improvements on Durham's 2008 and 2009 counts.
Mecklenburg County's homeless were rather more likely than those of other major urban areas in the state to go unsheltered. Some 27 percent of its homeless fell in that category.
Durham's 10 percent showing on that front was roughly in line with that of the other four counties The Herald-Sun looked at closely.
Two-thirds of Durham's homeless -- 447 out of 675 -- are men.
Durham as of late January also had 130 people living in what advocates call "permanent supportive housing," a term for places people can live and receive counseling, health care and other types of aid on a regular basis. Those people get counted, but not as homeless.
Schmeidler said a local nonprofit, Housing for New Hope, is poised to supply similar places for 24 more people, probably starting in April.
Source: The Herald-Sun (Durham)