Sep 6, 2022 - News

Homelessness is on the rise in Wake County

Data: Wake County Continuum of Care; Chart: Axios Visuals.
Data: Wake County Continuum of Care; Chart: Axios Visuals.

As rent prices surge, the cost of living increases and shelters struggle to keep up, more and more people living in Wake County are falling into homelessness.

What's happening: More than 1,500 people were counted as homeless in this year’s point-in-time count, up 68% from 2021, according to the Wake County Continuum of Care.

  • Homelessness is becoming more visible because of a shortage of shelter beds, Kim Crawford, executive director of the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End Homelessness, told Axios.
  • Crawford estimates that the pandemic restrictions led to there being 200 fewer shelter beds in Raleigh. "We’re still not back to pre-pandemic levels," she said.

Yes, but: The root issue, she said, is a shortage of affordable homes and apartments in a market where rental units are being swallowed up by investors and landlords can fetch higher rents. Increased prices are pushing many already vulnerable people, like those experiencing mental health issues or addiction, into homelessness.

Local governments have planned hundreds of new affordable housing units — but they can't be built overnight.

  • A lack of building a decade ago is catching up with many communities. As a whole, the U.S. hasn't built enough housing since the financial crisis of 2008. The problem is felt more acutely in hot markets like Raleigh.
  • "We need more shelter beds," Crawford said, but we also "need more addresses for people. Because what ends homelessness is a place to live."

Of note: Continuums of care —  local planning bodies that coordinate care for those experiencing homelessness — conduct their point-in-time counts on a single night in January.

  • These counts are considered to typically under count the number of people experiencing homelessness because of their limitations.

What we're watching: Crawford ‘s organization is still searching for a "white flag" shelter, which would take in unsheltered people during severe cold weather if all available beds are taken.

  • Competition for real estate has made it harder this year for the partnership to find a white flag shelter.

What they're saying: "We need places for people to go. We have more people coming into the homeless crisis response system than we have exiting," Crawford said. "Until we flip that, we're going to be overflowing."


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