What's behind a surprising drop in homelessness numbers in the Triangle
The number of people experiencing homelessness in the Triangle dropped significantly in the past year — but that's not something that the local groups that manage the region's response to homelessness are celebrating.
- In fact, they say the drop is mostly misleading.
Driving the news: Homelessness in the annual point-in-time counts for Durham, Orange and Wake counties was down 33% from 2022 to 2023, according to data from local continuums of care.
Context: Every January, organizations attempt to do point-in-time counts to capture a snapshot of the unhoused community during one day — it's required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- Be smart: Experts say point-in-time counts typically underestimate the true number..
What's happening: Wake County experienced the largest drop in the count, but that is due in part to a change in methodology, Jenn Von Egidy, a contractor with the Wake Continuum of Care, told Axios.
- The 2022 count included people who had recently called the county's Access Hub and still said they were experiencing homelessness when counters called them back during the point-in-time count.
- That same method was not applied in 2023.
What they're saying: "It is misleading," Von Egidy said. "I would say it probably does not correctly portray what our organizations with boots on the ground are actually feeling from day to day.
- "Everyone's feeling, actually, a pretty big increase in individuals seeking services. Those numbers have gone up a lot."
In Durham County, the total numbers also fell.
- One potentially contributing factor was a 35% reduction in emergency shelter capacity due to a loss of COVID funding, said Russell Pierce, executive director of Housing for New Hope, which organizes Durham's point-in-time count.
- That decreased the number of people in shelters, who can be easier for counters to find.
Yes, but: While there was an overall decrease in Durham, the number of totally unsheltered people kept climbing and has more than doubled since 2020, according to point-in-time count.
- And for the first time, Pierce noted, local organizations are encountering homeless families rather than just individuals.
- "To see so many people unsheltered is really concerning," Pierce told Axios. "I feel like that's probably the thing that we're watching the most — more so than the overall number going down."
The bottom line: Despite the drop in the point-in-time count, homelessness continues to be a problem in the Triangle, as rising rents continue to make it harder for our most vulnerable residents to afford shelter, Pierce and Von Egidy said.
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