Nov 3, 2023 - News

What's behind a surprising drop in homelessness numbers in the Triangle

People who are unhoused in the Triangle region
Data: U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Raleigh/Wake County Continuum of Care, Durham City & County Continuum of Care, Chapel Hill/Orange County Continuum of Care; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

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.

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.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Raleigh.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Raleigh stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Raleigh.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more