By one count, from October 2012 through September 2013, 3,322 people spent one or more nights in a Durham homeless shelter.
That’s up from 3,257 in the 2011-12 federal fiscal year, and from 2,861 the year before that, according to figures compiled for an annual report to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Those numbers, though, don’t tell the whole story.
“A key point would be to not assume that 3,322 represents how many homeless people Durham had over the course of a year,” said Lloyd Schmeidler, a city project manager for homeless services. It doesn’t include those who never came in to be counted – those who spent their nights “unsheltered” in the woods, under bridges and inside vacant buildings.
The number of sheltered homeless also is affected by the space available to shelter them, Schmeidler added. When a shelter adds beds, as the Durham Rescue Mission did last year, the estimated number sheltered goes up.
The 3,322 is an estimate, because different shelters keep their records different ways, so analyzing them together is problematic. Ten Durham agencies that provide “emergency” (overnight to 90 days), “transitional” (up to 24 months) or “permanent supportive” (for disabled) housing feed into a central database.
Those numbers are extrapolated to reach estimated totals that include the Rescue Mission, Love & Respect Recovery Inc. and the Crisis Response Center, which do not report into the Carolina Homeless Information Network (CHIN).
Breaking down the CHIN figures, given their common database, produces a description of those people who passed through Durham’s shelters in the course of a year. For the near future, they’re the best indicators available of trends in Durham homelessness, since Durham’s 2014 Point In Time Count – a literal count of the one-night homeless population – was snowed and iced-out in January.
Using CHIN data alone:
Schmeidler pointed out that, of the 91 families that stayed in emergency or transitional housing, 58 percent arrived after living with relatives or friends – “They come after having doubled up.”
“A key thing data ... is showing us (is that) the housing situation of homeless people prior to entering our shelter system is very unstable,” he said. “People are moving frequently.
“That is very difficult. I invite us to think about how we like to move our households ... the personal investment and the stress.”
Adding permanent supportive housing to keep the disabled and chronically homeless population off the streets and cared for has been a priority for many working for homeless relief in Durham, and Schmeidler found an encouraging number there: the number of beds was up, from 173 in 2012 to 265 in 2013.
“We are seeing some progress,” he said.