'Never seen this many people on the streets': Durham sees rise in homeless population

Samantha Kummerer Image
BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Friday, January 27, 2023
Durham sees rise in the homeless population
Mental health challenges and substance abuse are the top factors that many living on the street have to overcome, one expert says.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- For five years, Kevin Green has lived on the streets of Durham.

"I really dislike when people consider me to be homeless. I don't consider myself to be homeless. This is my home," Green said.

For the last two years, he has called the woods behind a storage unit center his home. He lives in a tent with his dogs. Green has a job, a car, and a bank account and is working on a driver's license.

"I never thought that I would actually have these things, you know, I've come a long way from a crackhead from Brooklyn," Green said.

He's working his way out of his battle with substance abuse but still faces barriers.

"I want to own my stuff. I kind of think that like the American Dream is an illusion for most of us. We're not going to be able to achieve it," he said.

Green can afford to pay monthly rent but most apartments require applicants to pay a deposit and make an income double or triple the monthly rent. And his ultimate dream is to own a home, but the path there is rooted with even more twists.

"I want to own my stuff. I've always wanted to own it. There's nothing like ownership; to say that it's mine," he said.

Green was just one of the stories that volunteers and leaders heard on Wednesday night during the annual Point in Time count (PIT). The nationwide effort aims to count the number of people experiencing homelessness.

Increase seen in Durham, statewide

Last year's count in Durham revealed there were 359 homeless households; a 30% increase since 2019. A majority of the increase was in the number of people considered "unsheltered." Forty-seven more people lived outside of a shelter in 2022 compared to 2019. Through the years, people with children also increased. Around 130 households in Durham reported having a child and being homeless; an 81% increase from 2021.

Statewide, 7,192 people were counted as homeless in 2022; a 36% increase from the previous year but around 2,000 fewer than in 2019.

David Newcomb, an engagement specialist for Housing for New Hope, said he sees the number continuing to climb in Durham.

"We're starting to see a lot of younger people. The Black population and Hispanic populations are bigger. It's just all the way around," he said. "I've never seen this many people on the streets. We have a big waiting list. Every time we go to one spot. We get called to another spot and another spot and we're just beginning to look just as quick as we can, but there's no emergency shelter."

Help is available

Newcomb lived on the streets for two years and knows how many obstacles people can face, but also said individuals need to want to change their circumstances.

"I tell a lot of people, "You weren't homeless, you didn't become homeless overnight. So, you walk eight miles in the woods, you gotta walk eight miles out." This is a process, you know, it's taken me five years to get back to where I am," Newcomb said.

He said mental health challenges and substance abuse are the top factors that many living on the street have to overcome.

"It's a very difficult cycle to get out of. You can do it by yourself with no assistance, but it is extremely hard," Newcomb said. "And if you start asking around, there's so much help and people that are willing to help ensure you're willing to help yourself. You know, I say give a hand up, not a handout."

The final count of homeless households will not be finalized until later this spring.

Those looking for help in Durham can find resources at https://housingfornewhope.org/