The faces of homelessness

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On February 26, we published Gauging Wake’s fight against homelessness, an update on the local homeless population.  To learn more about how the population is counted, what changes have occurred in the services provided and the latest on Raleigh-Wake’s Plan to End Homelessness, check it out.

To gain a more complete picture, we’ve spoken with people who receive the services offered.  Specifically, we asked how well the services met their varying needs and – in the case of those who have been homeless longer, any changes they have seen.

Barry ClaytonBarry Clayton

Barry Clayton is a 55-year-old Army veteran with a bachelor’s degree in English. Substance abuse, specifically alcohol and heroin, led to his being homeless and often jobless the last five to six years. Clayton has been in the Raleigh area since 1982, but his most current stint runs from 2002 to the present. He currently resides at the Christian Fellowship Home but is nearing the end of his six-month stay. He is hoping for an extension, but if it is not granted, he wonders where he’ll end up next.

We met at The Hope Center at Pullen, located on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, where Clayton bases his job search. He said he feels services have changed over the past few years. “Shelters have fewer beds now and more demand. There are now more mentally ill people in the shelters than there used to be.” Once in a shelter, “there used to be more emphasis on behavior in shelters than now. It used to be if someone communicated a threat they’d be run out, but now it tends to be overlooked at the South Wilmington Street Shelter.” He also noted that finding a place to shower is harder than it used to be. “They are still available, but with so many more signing up, it is harder to get to use them.”

Clayton observed, “There are more people on the street now than there used to be. There are more young people now. Most are 30-40 like usual, but I’m still seeing younger folk now.”

As for services, “there are fewer resources to go around. There are more people and the resources have not grown. It’s a lot harder to get into a shelter overnight now unless there are emergency conditions. Now, if I could not get in to a shelter, I prefer to sleep out somewhere. Often people sleep near the shelter, but then the police come and give them a trespassing violation.”

Veterans are sometimes eligible for special services, but according to Clayton, “It’s amazing there are not more immediate resources. You can be on the street for a year now before you get individual services. The shelter programs only have a limited number of beds. I hear the Wilmington Street Center is getting more money for veterans to have a ‘permanent’ bed. In this case, rather than signing up to the nightly lottery for admission, one is guaranteed a bed, locker and the use of a shower, but only for a limited time.”

Karen BirbachKaren Kirbach

Karen Kirbach has a different situation and has a different point of view. Homeless for a year and a half, she’s in a program at The Healing Place that provides meals, shelter, clothing and medical care for no rent. Karen said she is “very satisfied” with services there and needs six to nine months to complete the program before she can look for work. Kirbach said, “There are more soup kitchens than there used to be, but also more youth on streets and more females.” After she completes the program, she enters Phase II at The Healing Center and can begin looking for a job. Her curfew will change if need be to accommodate her working hours.

Denyse Ringgold

Denyse Ringgold has been homeless since October 2009 and is also at The Healing place. She said she is very happy to be in the program and said it serves her well. She also noted seeing more help available now for women and children. Once she finds a job, she will pay $300 per month to rent through their housing program. Of that amount, $200 will go for rent and $100 will go into an escrow account for the time when she is no longer eligible for subsidized housing. Denyse also observed that she has seen parents drop their troubled kids outside The Healing Place because they don’t know what to do with them anymore and can’t deal with them living at home anymore.

Reginald Campbell, Jr.Reginald Campbell, Jr.

Reginald Campbell, Jr. is 34 and he has been homeless since February 21, 2008. He said he used to get healthcare, but not anymore. Like Clayton, he’s also seeing more young people and says most of them claim their parents got tired of them getting into trouble, messing around with drugs, getting into legal hassles and not working, so they kicked them out.”

Campbell is due to complete The Healing Place program on October 9. He ended up there because he used to have a job and a rented a room while working third shift at Dunkin Donuts, but they cut back the hours and then dropped him from the schedule. Without money for rent, he lost his room and ended up at The Healing Place on Christmas Eve of last year.

Jessie Roberts

Jessie Roberts is 61 and a veteran. Homeless now for four years, he sleeps at the South Wilmington Street Shelter, but on a lottery basis, which means he may or may not have a place to sleep each night. Jessie said he sees more youth at the shelter now than in the past. He also believes the shelter has changed its role from just a place to sleep to a center which guides people to other programs.

Jessie said it’s harder to get Veteran’s Administration services now than it used to be, and harder to find healthcare of any type. He used to get more services from Cornerstone Center but now, he said, they are no good,  “unless you have a job or some income.” He said food seems more plentiful and easier to get than in the past, but noted “it takes longer to get a job now due to the recession and shelters want you to get a job but there aren’t any.” He will be eligible for benefits at age 62 and is looking forward to receiving them.

Lee Carwan

Lee Carwan is 25 and has been homeless less than 2 months. He was raised in foster care and lost his job when he was incarcerated. He was later found innocent and released, but his job was gone and he hasn’t found another. He is on the waiting list at The Healing Place for their substance abuse rehabilitation program, but currently enters the daily lottery at the South Wilmington Street Shelter. Lee said he finds getting fed pretty easy, but he can’t find any healthcare and wished the shelters would let more people in like they do on white flag nights when temperatures fall to 32 degrees or lower. Carwan said, “they don’t have to let you in when it is 34 degrees, but it is still pretty cold to be sleeping out at 34 degrees.”

Maria CruzMaria Cruz

Maria Cruz has a different story. She is 19 and has been homeless less than three months. She lost her job and her parents kicked her out when they learned she was pregnant. She currently sleeps at Raleigh Rescue Mission and finds food and healthcare pretty easy to get, especially when she was pregnant. Her child is now with Child Protective Services and she receives healthcare and food from the City of Raleigh. She also gets a Supplemental Security Income check and can keep the money. Cruz said the services she receives now “kind of meet my needs.”

It appears Raleigh-Wake has a long way to go in ending the homelessness problem. Many homeless are finding the help they need to survive, but not enough help to make them independent. The cost of housing, healthcare and the lack of jobs seem to be the biggest barrier for those without a substance abuse problem. By the same token, losing a job is what drove many into homelessness in the first place. Looking for work is a challenge without a phone number, a place to stay, the ability to maintain personal hygiene or a wardrobe suitable for interviews.  Like everyone else, they hope the recession will end and bring more opportunities for work.

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