Services for those experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk are needed in Wake County. According to the 2019 Point-In-Time count, there were almost 1000 people experiencing homelessness on one night in January. The Point-In-Time count is done annually and captures the number of people who reside in shelters or live unsheltered on one selected night. It does not account for everyone unsheltered, just those that are visible. Since 2016, the total number counted of those experiencing homelessness has increased from 818 to 970. Within this population, 138 were unsheltered in 2016 and 236 were unsheltered in 2019. These increases highlight the need for additional homelessness services.
Coordinated Entry (CE) for Wake County was implemented in Fall of 2018. CE is a system that matches those experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk to services in the community. It brings together many of the shelters and housing-assistance resources. There are “access sites” throughout Wake County where individuals and families do intake for CE and are assessed. Based on their circumstances and needs, they are referred to family shelters or street outreach services. The system has been effective in matching individuals and families to the appropriate services, but the waitlist is months long. The need for housing resources far exceeds the supply, which illustrates the need for more shelters and services.
A prevention service will be added to CE in October of 2019, but the funding is extremely limited. Prevention has been shown to be cost-effective, in that the funds used towards it save money compared to the same funds being used after an individual or family has become homeless. It has been shown that families provided with prevention services are far less likely to enter a shelter in the near future. So more funds going towards prevention services will not only save money, but will also help to keep individuals and families housed.
Initiatives have been used in Durham and Charlotte to combat homelessness, and similar ones need to be implemented in Wake County. In Durham, a $95 million bond has been proposed by the mayor. The money will go towards building affordable rental units and preserving existing ones. The money will also be used to fund emergency rental assistance, eviction attorneys, and property tax assistance. In Charlotte, a Housing First model has been implemented and has decreased the number of chronically homeless individuals and families. It has also saved the city of Charlotte over $2 million in two years. Housing First has been shown to be effective in cities across the United States in decreasing the prevalence of chronic homelessness. The model is self-explanatory, in that it provides housing as the first step of the process, rather than the end. Its primary recipients are individuals that have a physical disability or mental illness.
These initiatives would likely be effective in Wake County, as we experience similar issues surrounding homelessness as Charlotte and Durham. Lack of affordable housing is a major contributing factor to homelessness in Wake County. The need for affordable housing units as of 2018 was about 3400 units. Furthermore, 800 to 900 affordable units get removed every year in Wake County. The government plans to fund $15 million towards building affordable housing. This sounds like a lot of money, but it’s been calculated that even $20 million would only equate to about 800 units.This still leaves a deficit of 3400 units, and this number will continue to increase.
Fighting to alleviate homelessness may seem to be a daunting task. By having the knowledge of models and programs that have been shown to be effective, the fight gets a little easier. This is especially true when these successes have been seen in neighboring cities. It will take more people having this knowledge and advocating for these funds and programs to get Raleigh on the road to helping more of its homeless families and individuals secure housing.
Rayanne L. Many is a second-year student studying psychology.