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Durham approves $1.1 million toward Housing for New Hope for “Unsheltered Coordinating Agency”

Housing for New Hope is receiving $1.1 million, jointly funded by Durham City and County, to develop an “Unsheltered Coordinating Agency” over two and a half years, part of the city’s recent build up of affordable housing and homelessness programs.

The city council approved the funding at its May 4 meeting. The new agency will operate under the Continuum of Care as well as the newly formed Entry Point Durham.

Mayor Steve Schewel emphasized outreach to homeless people during the coronavirus crisis at the April 23 city council work session.

“This is a very impressive plan that we’ve got going with our homeless work, and this is a key building block in our homelessness strategy,” Schewel said. “It’s great to see our homelessness system come together, beginning with Entry Point Durham and now providing this with street outreach and the encampment response.”

Schewel also asked staff for details on how street outreach was going to help homeless people during COVID-19.

“I’ve been on the American Tobacco Trail quite a bit, and where the American Tobacco Trail crosses Fayetteville Street, there is a group there now,” he said. “Nobody I saw was socially distancing, wearing masks.”

Efforts to establish the new Unsheltered Coordinating Agency began this February under the direction of the city council and the Durham County Commissioners.

According to Housing for New Hope Executive Director Russell Pierce, the agency will be a revamped version of the nonprofit’s “Street Outreach” program, which has existed for 10 years.

“Through Street Outreach, our team goes onto the streets of Durham and identifies encampments and other areas where people who are homeless may be living and provide these individuals with information on community resources and housing opportunities,” Pierce said in an e-mail.

Street Outreach was previously funded by Alliance Healthcare. After the organization lost funding last year, Pierce said, the program was reduced to one employee. Because of the new funding, it has gone back up to five staffers who are being trained to engage with homeless people.

Because of the coronavirus, Pierce said homeless shelters have reduced capacity, such as Urban Ministries, which will reduce capacity by more than 50 percent, and Families Moving Forward, decreasing capacity by 20 percent.

“Our Rapid Rehousing team has been working to move nearly 20 households to housing in preparation for the (Urban Ministries of Durham) transition,” he said. “It is safer to have folks in their own space where they can be provided wraparound services.”

“The Street Outreach team will also be a critical community resource serving those who are unsheltered and unable to secure shelter beds as they await moves into permanent housing,” he added.

According to the contract between the city and Housing for New Hope, the requirements for the new agency will be rigorous. Staffers are required to go out into Durham at least two evenings a week to seek out homeless people.

Additionally, the nonprofit would have to maintain a phone line to take calls from concerned citizens to refer homeless people.

Once people are identified as homeless, the staff have to make contact with them at least once a week “to build trust and increase willingness to engage.” During that, before the person becomes part of the case load, Housing for New Hope must also be in touch with other organizations to refer them.

Staffers must try to make contact on different days over a minimum two-week period, “using all available contact methods.” Only after no contact with the homeless person for 30 days and three unsuccessful contact attempts are they allowed to stop contact.

Housing for New Hope will also lead the coordination of the annual homeless canvas as part of this contract, and make a map of homeless people in Durham to provide to the city Community Development Department.

“Entry Point Durham is our community’s coordinated entry program, a central point for those seeking service due to homelessness or the imminent threat of becoming homeless. Entry Point Durham provides one central location where people can begin to be connected to services,” Pierce said. “People come to them. However, that just isn’t possible for everyone. Street Outreach is designed to extend the efforts of Entry Point Durham and go where the people are begin building a relationship of trust as they begin their journey toward long-term, stable housing.”

The Street Outreach program recently moved to ReCity Durham, a “co-working on purpose” space located on Broadway Street, which formerly housed the design company Neu Concepts.

Continuum of Care is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Entry Point Durham was founded in October 2019, and has become the only way for people to seek shelter at Urban Ministries and Families Moving Forward. Staffers connect homeless people with resources to resolve their housing crisis.

It is located at the Durham County Human Services building during the week and at the John O’Daniel Exchange building on Gilbert Street on weekends and holidays.

City staff noted the program was an expansion of Housing for New Hope at the work session meeting.

According to financial reports, Housing for New Hope posted $3.3 million in net assets for the fiscal year ending in August 2018, up from $2.9 million in 2016. In 2018, Continuum of Care’s total funding for all homelessness programs in Durham was $1.5 million.

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