As director of a homeless shelter in downtown Durham in the late 80s, Terry Allebaugh saw the need for a new kind of intervention. Many came in and out of the shelter but weren’t receiving the range of services that would put them on a path to permanent housing and self-sufficiency.
“At the last point-in-time count, there were 675 homeless people in Durham,” Allebaugh said. “That’s how many solutions you need to homelessness; every person is different.”
Allebaugh founded Housing for New Hope in 1992 to help Durham’s homeless access benefits, services and a support network designed to end their cycle of poverty and homelessness. Allebaugh recently gave staff from the Office of Durham and Regional Affairs a tour of the facilities and programs his organization has developed in the past 19 years. We were grateful for the snapshot of Housing for New Hope’s work, and its impact across Durham.
Behind St. Joseph’s is one site where Durham’s homeless set up camp. Housing for New Hope keeps tabs on these sites through PATH Outreach teams, or Project for Assistance and Transitions from Homelessness. These teams — including both mental health professionals and people who have overcome homelessness themselves, called peer support specialists — engage the homeless and begin the sometimes lengthy process of connecting them to resources, care and transitional housing.
Also part of the team is Spencer Cook, a benefits specialist. Cook works with the homeless to determine their eligibility for varoius benefits, then helps them complete and file the necessary paperwork. Cook’s goal is to get his clients a bit of income as an initial step toward shelter and self-sufficiency. The most important aspect of the PATH Outreach team’s work, Cook said, is building their clients’ trust and convincing them that they can re-build their expectations.
“I hear this a lot: ‘I want to be homeless,'” Cook said. “We don’t believe that. When you get down to the core, it’s hopelessness.”
The Rapid Re-Housing program, administered by Housing for New Hope and housed at Urban Ministries of Durham, is designed to re-house individuals and families who have recently become homeless. Cynthia Harris is the Housing for New Hope case worker who manages the program, which currently is funded by federal stimulus money.
Harris’s clients must be able to prove two things: that they are homeless, and that they have some form of income or a path to income.
Ten clients are chosen, with first preference going to families. While the clients stay at Urban Ministries, Harris provides them with “Ready to Rent” training — teaching them how to budget, how to be a good renter and how to find good housing — and helps them find a place to stay.
Harris has built a network of private landlords who trust Housing for New Hope and are more likely to provide housing — sometimes at a discounted rate — when they know Harris is looking out for the renter .
Housing for New Hope then helps the Rapid Re-Housing clients pay for their security deposit, their first month of rent, and more as needed. Harris checks in on the clients, and after three months, she determines whether they need to stay with the program or if they’ve become self-sufficient.
“It takes a lot to get a household started,” Harris said. “We do what we can to help these folks who are down on their luck.”
Opened in 1992, Phoenix House is the flagship program of Housing for New Hope. It offers one-year, transitional housing for homeless men, with a focus on ending substance abuse.
Housing for New Hope Transitional Housing Program Coordinator Jessie Hughes said Phoenix House provides stability and fellowship for its eight residents as they seek and maintain jobs, cook meals for each other, and learn to be self-sufficient.
Hughes also oversees the Dove House, which offers one-year transitional housing for women just a mile down the road. At both houses, residents participate in evening activities — from movie nights to 12-step meetings — and get help as needed with developing soft skills, creating resumes and finding training opportunities.
Sidney Armstrong is the manager of Phoenix House and a graduate of the program himself. He said men find their way to the house in a variety of ways: through referrals from the street, from churches, or from prison. He pointed to a series of plaques hanging in the living room, engraved with the names of program graduates, and said no matter their situation, residents are striving for the same thing.
“Success is having your name on this wall,” Armstrong said. “Success is leaving here and moving into independent living on your own.”
Stop Four: Williams Square
Opened in June 2010, the Williams Square apartment complex is the newest of Housing for New Hope’s developments. Its 24 units — each with a private bathroom and kitchenette — are targeted at homeless people with mental illness. The $433 monthly rent is subsidized by state and federal programs, with one-third coming from the disability benefits secured for residents with the help of Housing for New Hope.
In the middle of the development is a community space. Residents gather there for games and movies, and it’s used by local organizations as meeting space. A group called Friends of Williams Square plans to use the space to offer G.E.D. classes, art classes, and other enrichment opportunities for residents. The residents have used the facility to play host to their neighbors from a senior housing complex, who have come over for a cookout and a holiday dinner.
For the residents of Williams Square, Allebaugh said, just as important as the sense of community is the privacy gained from their own small apartments.
“If they want to invite people over, they can, and if they want to lock the door and keep to themselves, they can do that, too,” Allebaugh said. “That’s a huge step for them, and it’s something so easy for the rest of us to take for granted.”