'Pandemic within a pandemic': New count finds Wake County homeless population has doubled since 2020

ByLaura Browne via WTVD logo
Thursday, July 28, 2022
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The number of homeless people in Wake County has nearly doubled since 2020, according to a new report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The number of homeless people in Wake County has nearly doubled since 2020, according to a new report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Point-in-Time Count attempts to determine the number of people without a home in a city or county on a given night.

The 2022 count for Wake County showed a 68 percent increase from 2021 and a 99.5% increase from 2020.

Kim Crawford, executive director of the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End Homelessness called the situation a "pandemic within a pandemic."

"Homelessness is a life and death situation," Crawford said. "It's not necessarily a characteristic of a person, but it happens to be the situation they find themselves in. And it's a precarious, dangerous situation to be in. With that being said, we have seen a large increase in our unsheltered population over the last two years."

Many financial and occupational insecurities caused by COVID-19 have led to the rise in homelessness. Additionally, the lifting of the eviction moratorium put into place to protect residents during the pandemic increased the unsheltered population.

The COVID-19 pandemic didn't just have an effect on individuals, it also had an effect on shelters. The 620 shelter beds available prior to the pandemic had to be reduced to around 400 beds for safety reasons, leaving many without an available bed.

"Those 200 people have to go somewhere and we don't have any place for them to go," Crawford said.

In addition to insufficient shelter beds, a lack of affordable housing units continues to remain another reason for the prevalence of homelessness.

"Homelessness ends with a home, and we don't have enough," Crawford said. "We already know that; we hear that every day. We hear the price of homes is skyrocketing. The same thing is happening in our rental market. The rents are going up as well. What that means is that we have less and less and less units that are available at, or below fair market rent."

Homelessness disproportionately affects Black people in Wake County. According to the 2020 U.S. census, Black individuals made up 21 percent of Wake's population, but make up about 73% of this year's count of the homeless population.

Crawford said a major cause of this remains generational poverty, systemic oppression, historical injustices and a lack of equity in institutions like the criminal justice system, health care and education.

In addition to more affordable housing, Crawford said advocacy is required to inspire awareness and change.

"I think we need to advocate," Crawford said. "I think that our community needs to recognize when we talk about the injustices, those that know the injustices are the ones that have to live it. Those that don't know them, they don't know them. Ignorance is not bliss in this particular situation."

The Point-In-Time Count is conducted each January and remains a way to calculate the number of unhoused people, according to the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness.

According to the Point-in-Time Count for 2022, 1,534 people were without a home in Wake County on the night of the count. The number isn't perfect and is generally considered an undercount, according to the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness.

Crawford said that while homelessness may continue to remain an issue, individuals must move forward and attempt to generate solutions.

"People are still going to experience severe persistent mental illness. People are still going to lose their jobs. People are still going to get divorced. Veterans are still going to come back from combat," Crawford said. "But it's how fast we as a community recognize them as human beings and we respond appropriately. And that instead of trying to place blame on the individual, we try and help."