Housing for New Hope removes barriers to housing for the homeless

Christy Thompson, the director of development at Housing for New Hope, talks on the phone at the organization’s office in the Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard. Housing for New Hope is a nonprofit that offers several programs to prevent and end homelessness in the county. (Staff photo by Maria Elena Vizcaino)

Nigel Brown said he believes it was his destiny that landed him a job where he helps people keep a roof over their heads.

At Housing for New Hope, Brown leads the Rapid Re-Housing program which helps families transition from homelessness to a permanent home. This program is one of many services offered by the organization, which also serves as a bridge between homeless people and resources in the community.

“I’m a voice for the families of Durham right now who are being impacted,” Brown said.

He assists families referred to the organization by shelters, nonprofits and the Department of Social Services by negotiating with landlords and providing funds for rent and utilities. Sometimes, the program also gives funds to families for food and furniture for new homes.

According to its 2016 annual report, the organization helped 82 families move into permanent homes that year. Olive Joyner, the executive director of Housing for New Hope, said they expect to help at least 75 families this year.

“Our goal is to try and (match) them quickly to a landlord that’s willing to overlook some of their barriers and get them in housing as quickly as we can,” Joyner said.

Housing for New Hope, which operates from a 300-square-foot office by Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard with 20 employees, offers a wide variety of services for families and individuals. In 2016, the organization helped 1,800 people achieve their goals through these services. For example, some aim to become computer literate to find a job, and others want to find an affordable permanent house.

“For us, success looks like our clients accomplishing their goals that they have set,” said Christy Thompson, the organization’s director of development.

Finding homes in Northeast Central Durham

When it comes to relocating families to Northeast Central Durham, vacant and habitable houses are scarce, Brown said.

To comply with Durham’s housing code, houses must meet “standards of fitness,” such as having a sound foundational structure and proper heating and ventilation systems.

“When we do find (houses), there’s some extensive work that has to go into getting them up to code, which (leads to) two or three weeks that this family is homeless,” Brown said.

Sometimes the landlords will agree to minor repairs without increasing the rent, Brown said. In most instances, they prefer to rent it to tenants who don’t go through the program and therefore don’t require an inspection.

What causes homelessness?

Although mental health and disabilities often leads to homelessness, Joyner said everyone is potentially at risk.

“Just when I think there is a particular template, (people) will come up with a master’s degree, (people who) worked at Research Triangle Park and lost their jobs — (they) end up homeless in a family shelter.” Joyner said.

However, Housing for New Hope can’t help everyone who is at risk, she said. For people to receive assistance from the nonprofit organization, they must get a referral from a shelter, another nonprofit or the DSS, certifying that they are homeless.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines a homeless person as someone “who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” sleeps in a homeless shelter or sleeps in “public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.”

Brown said that people who have recently been evicted from their homes and stay at a friend’s house, for example, do not qualify for the nonprofit’s services.

What to do if you’re at risk of eviction

Durham leads the state with approximately 900 evictions per month, according to Jesse McCoy, an attorney at Duke Law who supervises a new program to help residents with housing issues.

The Civil Justice Clinic works to represent clients in legal matters such as housing, benefits and domestic violence. The clinic is a partnership between the Duke University School of Law and nonprofit law firm Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC).  McCoy says anyone who foresees having a housing issue, or currently has one, can visit or call the clinic for assistance.

“Legal Aid North Carolina cannot represent people who are undocumented or make over the income threshold that LANC said they can make,” McCoy said. “But those people who don’t qualify for Legal Aid can come to the Duke Law Civil Justice Clinic.”

Although there are hundreds of eviction cases filed in the county’s court every month, the clinic only oversees about 50 of those that are referred from the DSS. McCoy said he believes people fear the roadblocks they may face when contacting the DSS for rental assistance. The loss of a job, for example, could potentially mean the loss of a child’s custody.

“We want to make sure our program at least increases this awareness, and that people know that we exist, so that they can communicate to us if they have an issue,” McCoy said.

The clinic is open every Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m. on the second floor of the Durham County Courthouse and offers assistance through the phone at 919-613-7131.

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