Coming off the latest in a string of eventful seasons for housing in the Durham, Housing for New Hope held our Annual Breakfast event on June 13, highlighting the work we continue to do to expand housing and integrate our marginalized neighbors back into the community.
Board member Erica Maddox began the event with a retrospective of what Housing for New Hope has been able to accomplish since last year’s Annual Breakfast. “Because of you, HNH was able to provide much needed services and resources to over 700 individuals in Durham this past year and eliminate 80% of rental arrears for several clients.” Erica noted that it was all made possible due to time, talents, effort, compassion, and direct support of HNH programs.
To check in on the state of the agency, Executive Director Russell Pierce made clear that Durham is still in the middle of an ongoing housing crunch trend, noting that affordable housing units, defined as single bedrooms available for $800 a month or less, have dropped by at least 50 percent.
This was also the year that Housing for New Hope took lead on the annual point-in-time count (PiT), conducting a census of the area’s unhoused population. The PiT count found more people living entirely without shelter, lacking access to temporary rooms, hotels, or homeless shelters. When bringing this up with community leaders, Russell said some characterized it as “dire,” which he preferred to view as “beyond challenging.”
However, Russell emphasized that the PiT count also showed us reasons to be “beyond hopeful.” Our call for volunteers attracted nearly 150 responses, exceeding our initial plans for volunteer coordination. Combined with the support we’ve seen from the community, it has energized us to continue to meet these great challenges in a big way.
One way is the expansion of our supportive housing programs through a new campus at Carver Creek in Northern Durham. Following the recent vote of approval from Durham City Council, Housing for New Hope is preparing to add over 100 housing units that will be kept affordable and have direct access to case management and supportive services. The goal is to establish a support system that will keep people sheltered after an experience with homelessness.
Annual Breakfast 2023 put together a panel of community leaders and health experts to discuss how maintaining a presence in clients’ lives helps disrupt the narrative of homelessness. The panel included Areli Barrera De Grodski, Nicole Lewellyn Schramm-Saptya, and Ann Oshel, Durham community members representing different perspectives on the ongoing homelessness narrative.
Areli Barrera De Grodski, co-owner of Cocoa Cinnamon, led off with a community perspective on thinking beyond criminalizing the act of experiencing homelessness and seeking help. She shared her personal experience trying to help a neighbor who needed more than a one-time referral to a shelter. “What we’re seeing is people needing mental health support and addiction support,” Areli told us. “The solution is that we need healers. What resources do we have that we can implement to support our neighbors?” One resource she emphasized was the advancement of the HEART crisis response program, which trains unarmed first responders to arrive in cases of a mental health crisis.
Nicole Lewellyn Schramm-Sapyta, Associate Professor of the Practice in the Duke Institute for Brain Science and an expert on mental health disorders such as drug addiction, noted the many ways that knowledge of psychology and mental health can help in intervention. “People suffer in homelessness,” Nicole said. “It is really a community obligation.” But she noted that this is a creative community that thinks beyond the challenging nature of a systemic problem. “Durham is a place that embraces innovations. That will push the boundaries of what more can be done.”
Ann Oshel, Senior Vice President of Community Health at Alliance Health, emphasized the inextricable link between healthcare and housing. She emphasized that healthcare staff are now trained to look into a patient’s housing situation to diagnose proper care. Regarding the potential of HNH’s new campus, she said, “I want to comment on the potential of Carver Creek in particular. We’re talking about supportive services on site led by peer support. We have the right opportunity and it’s the right timing.”
The potential of that opportunity was conveyed by one of our final speakers, former Housing for New Hope client Gwendolyn Hicks. When Gwendolyn met us, she had lost her housing and was in a Durham shelter with her two young sons. Gwendolyn’s disability left her unable to work and unable to find housing through conventional means.
Today Gwendolyn spoke in support of what Housing for New Hope accomplishes for people experiencing homelessness. In her case, she was able to move her family beyond the temporary shelter and work through the hospitalizations she went through due to lack of housing. Today, she has found work driving in logistics and is settled in Greensboro with both her sons and her new partner. Gwendolyn was married just recently. On the whole, she’s in a place she said she couldn’t have predicted at the beginning of her experience being unsheltered.
“I would like people to know that homelessness is not just a choice,” Gwendolyn stated before sharing her story to the Breakfast attendees. “It can be something where something very critical happened to a person that is out of their control.”
Gwendolyn’s was one of many perspectives and stories that bring hope in a time of increasing housing insecurity. Housing for New Hope believes these stories are vital to energize and motivate a community that has already proven its desire to help. We hope this Annual Breakfast has shone a spotlight not only on the material challenges we’re all witnessing, but also on the will to face the challenge head-on.
The Annual Breakfast kicked off our campaign to raise $50,000 for our housing access fund, which will help people experiencing homelessness in Durham find both the housing and supportive services they need. If you are able to contribute any amount, please visit the link below.