Positivity rules the day: the community comes together to solve homelessness in Durham

Smiles abound at Project Homeless Connect, as George Roberson and Duke nursing student Nicole Forlan check out his portrait, made by the Durham VOICE staff and printed by Mark Dolejs and Christine Nguyen (not pictured). (Staff photo by Rob Berges)

James is getting prepared for a haircut from one of the student-barbers from Sherrill’s University of Barbering and Cosmetology. James recently moved to Durham to get support for his 4-year-old son, who is autistic; he came to Project Homeless Connect to find permanent housing and employment. Instructor Chris Short (not pictured) said, “I feel like today was a really great experience. We got about 40 heads in. Everybody seemed really happy—like we lifted up a lot of spirits.” (Staff photo by Rob Berges)

Durham’s seventh annual Project Homeless Connect linked people experiencing homelessness, or those experiencing lower incomes to “the care they need to move forward.” The event brought out hundreds of guests and volunteers to Durham Bulls Athletic Park Friday, Oct. 10, all determined to end homelessness in the rapidly growing city.

Organizers want to make it possible for people to do in one day what would normally take months of research, appointments, and bus fares – a long list of tasks that may not be possible for individuals and families that struggle to stay fed.

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Charles, second from right, poses with Duke nursing students, left to right, Erin, Fallon and Patrick as they say goodbye. Charles said, “They actually helped me out a lot, way more than I thought they would.” (Staff photo by Rob Berges)

Volunteers from the Duke University School of Nursing interviewed, and escorted over 200 people to a variety of booths to serve the guests specific needs and start working towards a better position in life.

Project Homeless Connect documents instruct service providers to refer to those seeking services as “guests.” In order to “avoid objectifying people experiencing homelessness and be intentional about the fact that they are not ‘the homeless’ or ‘homeless people,’ but they are people in our community.” (emphasis in original document)

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Smiles abound at Project Homeless Connect, as George Roberson and Duke nursing student Nicole Forlan check out his portrait, made by the Durham VOICE staff and printed by Mark Dolejs and Christine Nguyen (not pictured). (Staff photo by Rob Berges)

Charles, one of Project Homeless Connect’s guests, said, “They actually helped me a lot, way more than I thought they would…I actually got some leads on housing, I got some appointments set up to go to Durham Tech, and I also got my feet looked at today!”

When Charles arrived at the main entrance to the ballpark he was signed in, and paired up with a volunteer and future nurse named Fallon Fitzpatrick.


Charles poses as “the King of Durham,” standing by the Durham Police Department’s Harley-Davidson Electra Glide cruiser in front of the Durham Bull’s Athletic Park’s fountains and main entrance. (Staff photo by Rob Berges)

The pair spoke for 10-15 minutes about Charles’ medical history, his education, his housing situation and many other aspects of his personal life, then they set out to find the services that would make the biggest possible impact in Charles’ life.

Every time Charles spoke with a service provider or received a service the agent would sign his “Passport” booklet, which made him eligible for giveaways at the end of the event, and helped to keep track of new appointments and contact information.


Divas and Dude, Gold Medalists for cheerleading at the Durham Senior Games at NCSU, perform for the crowd just before noon at Project Homeless Connect. Coach Althea Williams said, “We all have our issues, and our health problems – I’ve received a kidney transplant, we have cancer survivors – you can still get out have fun, and be active.” (Staff photo by Rob Berges)

At the end of the day Charles told Fallon that he appreciated her help, and he said, “I’ve got one week to make all these things happen, but I wouldn’t have had that if [Fallon] wouldn’t have helped me out like that. I would have had one day to make it, which is impossible.”

Charles seemed genuinely inspired and empowered by his experience. Charles said, “I got meetings set up for me all week, and they gave me a bus pass to get to all my appointments. That’s what we was just talking about – I was worried about how I am going to get to my appointments, and they gave me a bus pass to get there, man­ – to all of them!

“I’ve got to meet with Durham Tech [on] Monday to take the orientation to get into the school, and when I leave here, I’m actually going to Durham Tech to finish my placement tests. I didn’t go this morning, because I didn’t have a bus pass, but now I can go ahead and get that done today.”


Maurice Myers conducts the NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble as they perform the national anthem behind home plate at Durham Bull’s Athletic Park. (Staff photo by Rob Berges)

Project Homeless Connect has taken place in the City of Durham since 2008, as part of the city’s 10-year plan to end homelessness called Durham Opening Doors. It was started in 2004 by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and the model is now being practiced in over 260 cities in North America and Australia, according to the Project Homeless Connect website.

As of January 29, 2014 there was 758 people experiencing homelessness in Durham, 108 of them being children, according to data at the Durham Opening Doors website.

As Jared Pone, a City of Durham public relations specialist, said, “In the Bull City, we are cap-a-bull of ending homelessness in Durham.”

Erica McKie, a graduate of Durham’s Center for Employment Training, was there with Beauty Blueprint, an organization she founded to teach people how they can improve their sense of self-worth by choosing clothes and styles that work for their particular body-type.

McKie said, “If you know how to make yourself look good, then you will start to feel good, and you can start to really make a positive difference in your life,” she said, “[Beauty Blueprint] doesn’t pay much, but we’re giving back to the community, and that’s what it’s all about for us.”

McKie’s positivity and sense of community was a common theme among people at Project Homeless Connect.


“Rub-a-dub dub, thanks for the grub, Yay, God!” said Sidney (in red), as he exited the lunch line at Project Homeless Connect on Friday, Oct. 10. (Staff photo by Rob Berges)

Lynn, a Durham native and military veteran, said, “I came here to collect information and enjoy people and talk to people, and most of these people that are up here, I know anyway“

Lynn said, “I got plenty done here today. I was homeless approximately eight years ago, and I come to these events…to help veterans and all the people that are in the homeless shelters and the mission, and spread out all the information where they can sort of get help.

“My favorite part [about Durham] is the way the city is growing, that harmony is changing. I was born and raised here, except for 10 1/2 years when I was on active duty in the military, and I lived in Austin, Texas, for about three years, but when I came back I didn’t even recognize Durham. I mean, the whole environment, the whole city is changing.”

Lynn said, “I love this place!”


UNC Senior Lecturer Jock Lauterer gets a big smile from Wanona Tabb at the Durham VOICE’s on-site portrait studio, where the staff printed portraits for Project Homeless Connect’s guests. Wanona had just come from getting her hair done. (Staff photo by Rob Berges)