Misconceptions about the homeless in NECD

By Isha Jackson
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

Off East Main Street in downtown Durham, stands Urban Ministries, a homeless shelter.

Roderick Marshall, residential management personnel at Urban Ministries estimates that Durham has about 4,000-5,000 homeless people. About 200-300 are housed at the shelter at any given time.

Dwayne Thomas, a resident of Urban Ministries, waits outside for a city bus.

Most people have opinions about how one becomes homeless.

“I mean anything can happen. You could have lost your job…now your mortgage is due, along with your bills now you get evicted and are homeless…that quick,” said Brittany Dixon, a Criminal Justice sophomore at N.C. Central University.

“Most homeless are not there by choice,” said Leiah McKinzie, medical office administration major at Cleveland Community College. “I just feel that most of them get on drugs, try to ask their families for help, but by then they have been such a burden that their own family isn’t willing to take them in.”

John Allen is a resident at Urban Ministries, a native of New York who moved to North Carolina for cheaper housing. He was willing to share some of his story.

“I was working and got laid off. My unemployment ran out then got reinstated.  I worked at all types of temporary jobs, but they let me go as well,” says Allen. “I really could not afford much of anything after that.”

“I had my commercial driver’s license, but when I moved here I have to switch licenses…the medical review board failed my eye test, so then I couldn’t drive.” Allen later developed an infection in his foot.

According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, there are three different levels of homelessness. There is the transitionally homeless situation, which is a single episode of homelessness lasting an average of 58 days. Second, there is the episodically homeless situation, which lasts a total of 265 days. Last, there is the chronically homeless, which is an average of two episodes, lasting a total of 650 days.

Urban Ministries provides 60 free days to stay in the shelter per calendar year which do not have to be consecutive. After the 60 days the homeless must join one of the programs offered.

Programs range from recovery programs including rehabilitation, to a program called Journey Tech for students who are homeless and looking for work.

The shelter provides three meals a day and depends on community help and donations.

“The organization is non-profit. The government doesn’t really help, but sometimes we receive grants,” said Marshall. “Obama’s stimulus package helped a lot.

He points out the realities of the shelter, “Most [residents] are mentally ill and should be in mental institutions, but they cannot afford it so they end up here with no one to really help them with their illness,” said Marshall. “Sometimes they are just plain lazy.”

Allen is embarrassed at his situation and is a little hesitant to answer all of the interview questions due to his situation.

“I don’t want to ask my family for help. They are all in New York, and I don’t feel like they can do anything to help,” says Allen. “I would rather do it myself.”

Allen suggests they way people can help more is to donate more blankets, washcloths and towels.

“Maybe some computers so that we can look for jobs,” said Allen. “Yes, the library is across the street, but it’s so congested that you would have to wait two to three hours before you get to a computer.”

Residents range from newborn babies to elderly people, laid off mothers and veterans who all wait in line for their meal to be served.

USA Today cites a 2009 study that Veterans make up one in four homeless people in the United States, though they are only 11% of the general adult population.

The Veterans Affairs Department has identified 1,500 homeless veterans from the current wars and says 400 of them have participated in its programs specifically targeting homelessness.

“I think homelessness reflects horribly on our state. I mean most homeless are veterans and the army guarantees that they will be taken care of, but the longer they are out of the service, the less they get,” said Dixon. “Why defend your county if, your country will eventually leave you on the streets?”

Marshall says, “There are plenty of homeless veterans…sometimes things happen and while waiting on their checks from the government. They get placed in shelters such as this one. I would say 50% of the homeless are veterans.”

Urban Ministries does what it can to supply the homeless with food and shelter, but that may not be enough.

“I guess they do all they can with the supplies, and I am thankful for that,” said Allen.

Urban Ministries could use help from the Durham and surrounding area. There are always volunteer and donation opportunities to help. Think about it, John Allen is very similar to someone you know, a dad, an uncle, a good person put in a bad situation.

To help the Northeast Central Durham homeless situation visit www.umdurham.org for more information on how to help Urban Ministries in its struggle to keep hope alive for the homeless.