Editor’s note: NCCU reporters from the VOICE attended this year’s Durham’s Project Homeless Connect and bring the following stories covering different aspects of the event.
By Jorashae Graddick and Katie Godwin
NCCU Staff Writers
the Durham VOICE
On Thursday, Oct. 11, Durham Opening Doors Homeless Prevention and Services held its 6th annual Project Homeless Connect at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. This event was created to help people in the community specifically those who identify as homeless, find opportunities to overcome it. There were giveaways, for-profit and non-profit organizations, government services and catered meals for the guests to the expo.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness webpage, on any given night 643,067 people are experiencing homelessness. More specifically to Durham, “at least 1796 people occupied housing for homeless in the fiscal year ending 9/30/2011,” according the Durham Opening Doors website.
Their research indicates that 3096 people had been sheltered in Durham. Eleven percent of the homeless population is children, 19 percent are veterans and 38 percent of those identifying as homeless say that “unemployment is the primary cause.”
These numbers are the reason why Durham Opening Doors has hosted this event for six years to decrease the numbers of Durham’s homeless.
The event was held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. along the upper concourse of the stadium which glittered with tables with programs and full of information. The services included employment, social services, housing, veterans’ services, medical services and legal services.
A large white tent wrapped in a colorful array of balloons stood at the entrance. Cheerful volunteers and community directors waited to assist people entering the event.
“I really want to raise awareness in the community about homelessness,” said Matt Schnars, project manager for the second year at Project Homeless Connect. “I enjoy trying to assist the community.”
Schnars said that it took two months and almost 400 volunteers and service providers to help coordinate the event. He is grateful for all the help they received.
Celebratory tunes played by a DJ could be heard throughout the stadium. Each guest wore a name tag, saying “Hello my name is…” and visited the tables for information about assistance.
At the end of the concourse was a feast of baked chicken, cabbage, and side dishes along with a full dessert table for all guests to eat.
People from all walks of life came to the event to see what they could benefit from.
Darryl Umstead, 49, of Durham, came out to Project Homeless Connect to look for housing. He said that he is not homeless because he has been staying with a family member.
He got the opportunity to talk to the housing authority while out at the event. When asked how he felt about the event, he simply said, “I like it!”
Domestic Violence and Homelessness
One of the organizations out to help and inform people at the event was The Durham Crisis Response Center. This domestic violence response center serves people living in Durham County.
They offer domestic violence victims a place to stay in shelters as well as transitional housing; they have a 24-hour crisis line and an on-site hospital.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, in 2008, 1,108 people in the state said they were homeless due to domestic violence situations and 10 percent of the entire homeless population indicated that they had come from families with domestic violence.
“One in four domestic violence and sexual assault victims are women,” said Kadia Edwards, community education coordinator. “We mostly serve women.” However, they do serve every person in need of assistance as well as children ages twelve and up.
An Election Year Essential – Voter Registration
The A. Philip Randolph Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit, community organization came to the event to register people to vote and get out the word about the importance of voting.
“This organization helps to educate working families about their civil rights, voting, anti-poverty programs and labor law reform,” said Wayne Bostick, president of the Durham chapter of APRI. “Voting is a serious issue. The homeless and working families have a right to know what is going on too.”
The organization, named after civil rights activist, Asa Philip Randolph, gave out informational flyers and pamphlets.
They also went door-to-door to register people to vote and will be transporting people to the polls.
“We have been working non-stop,” said Bostick. “Over 4,000 calls have been made to residents to remind them.”
Food and Nutrition Assistance
The Food and Nutrition Services Department of Durham County Social Services offers many options for not only the homeless, but people in general who need help with their food needs.
Now officially SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), many still know it by its former name, food stamps.
At Project Homeless Connect, Jamie Jones, an income maintenance supervisor, and Veada Moore, an income maintenance worker, helped people fill out applications.
“We are here to make sure that people receive their benefits,” said Jones.
Applicants were able to apply for the program or renew benefits if they had brought along information concerning their household income such as a check or check stub. Although it is income based, people without an income are also eligible.
The benefits are valid for six months to one year, depending on each person’s case.
“The process is very easy,” said Moore, who also explained that benefits go into effect one day after approval.
Other representatives mentioned that people can also apply online, by fax at 919-560-8208, or by coming to the office at 300 Duke St. The phone number is 919-560-8761.
Durham County Social Services: Helping Many in Many Ways
By Julia Brooks
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
The largest governmental organization at Project Homeless Connect was Durham County Social Services. But at this one-stop shop, attendees could learn about the wide variety of ways they can help when someone needs a helping hand.
Adult Crisis Services works with elderly and disabled or low income adults and can help if they experience a crisis and are unable to pay utility or water bills or find themselves without heating in the winter.
They can also help with placement for adults who need supervised care and are in charge of licensing and certifying homes for adults. They are involved with Meals on Wheels and in-home aid and have a community service technician program.
“I enjoy providing assistance to the community,” said Willie Gibson, supervisor of emergency assistance, who has worked with adult services for seven years. He wants people to remember that helping the homeless is not done only once a year, but on a daily basis.
Another important part of Adult Services is Adult Protective Services that goes in to investigate possible cases of neglect, abuse or exploitation of the elderly and disabled.
Family Services, also known as the Family Crisis Unit, provides counseling and financial assistance for families with children. They sponsor programs such as the Water Hardship Fund, the Emergency Energy Fund, the Crisis Intervention Program, the Low Income Energy Assistance Program and Direct Medical.
“We try to stabilize the home,” said Melissa Singleton, a social worker who assisted at the event.
Alzata Eubanks, another social worker helping out at the event, felt honored to help out at Project Homeless Connect. “I consider it a privilege because I can find myself in the same situation,” she said.
Giving Back: A Volunteer’s Perspective
By Trenton Little
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
N.C. Central University senior Shanequa Hall had never participated in the annual Project Homeless Center program. But, after participating this year, she is already looking forward to next year.
“I’ve never done it before but I always wanted to give back to the community,” Hall said. “This is probably something I will contribute to each year they have it by helping with the volunteer side of it.”
Hall caught wind of the program after seeing pictures of the program on a friend’s Instagram, a photo-sharing social network.
The friend was NCCU graduate student Kelsey Hargrove. Hargrove serves as the Director of Community Outreach for the Graduate Student Association.
“I reached out to other students on campus through social networks like Instagram and Twitter,” Hargrove said.
The Project Homeless Connect was one of the many events the Graduate Student Association wanted to participate in this year.
Hall was able to build a lasting relationship with a less fortunate family.
She started the day in line waiting to see which family would pick her out of the lineup.
The family that picked her out was Myra, and her twelve-year-old son, Daerion. Myra preferred not to use her last name for this story.
Myra said she didn’t know that people out here actually helped people in need. Her main purpose for attending was to find housing for her and her son, to get a checkup on her health, get a job and to check on her son’s eye problem.
“I get my health checked out, but it’s not often,” Myra said. Everything she came out for she was helped with.
She left with a resume of her own, and a new job. She also was able to get clothes and other necessities for Daerion at the giveaway at the end of the day.
The day wasn’t life changing for just Myra and Daerion, Hall left the Durham Bulls stadium having learned a lot.
“I learned that you can’t be down,” Hall said.
The speaker earlier that morning said, “If you can look up that means you can get up,” and that stuck out to Hall even though the message wasn’t meant for her.
She feels that she now has to stay positive and humble. “When I feel like I got it bad and I’m stressing, I realized there are people that have it worse than me.”
It felt good for Hall to make a difference in someone’s life.
“Today the lady I had made a resume and found a job, so it makes me feel good because she left with something she didn’t come with,” she said.
“It’s always good to help somebody.”