Marketing Manager, Dewberry
In the last 20 years, the population of Wake County has increased by 53 percent, according to the Wake County government website, and gains an average of 63 new residents each day. How do we accommodate this growth with a limited amount of unused land? Right now affordable housing in our area is not only losing units at a staggering rate, but is not adding the housing needed for low income families. Our tour for Human Services Day included two stops at transformational service providers in our community. We learned about the services they provide, and the great need for both affordable housing units and active community engagement to change the conversation around poverty.
Triangle Family Services
Our first stop on the tour was a visit to Triangle Family Services, an 81-year-old human services agency providing services related to family safety, financial stability, and mental health. They typically run 10-12 programs at a time on a $3.4-million budget, are comprised of 70 staff members, and serve approximately 5,000 clients of all ages each year. They defined for us ACEs, a term meaning adverse childhood experiences (e.g. trauma, child abuse, war) and explained that a lot of folks in our community are dealing with the effects of ACEs in their adult lives and don’t have a way to break the cycle without intervention. They set client-centered goals, collaborate with clients, use evidence-based practices, and wrap around care because most of their clients don’t have just one issue and need the total human services experience. Triangle Family Services was a welcoming environment that avoids triggers for folks who have experienced trauma. We discussed issues unique to Raleigh that they were aware of, including the shortage of affordable housing in our area.
I particularly was interested in hearing about how they work with the courts to keep families together by providing services to people who are at risk of losing their families. They also work with Wake County Child Protection Services and provide safe visitation environments for families. They believe family separation equals trauma, and strive to keep families together. With 86 percent of their clients labeled as low-income, the system is simply overburdened and they are often forced to turn people away. Triangle Family Services receives its funding by way of city, county, state, and private entities.
Healing Transitions – “As many times as it takes”
Our second stop on the tour was to a “brotherhood and sisterhood working to change lives” by providing food, shelter, and support for alcohol- and drug-addicted community members. The organization began in the 90s as a result of many living on the streets with drug and alcohol additions, and being were turned away from shelters. They provide non-medical detox service on demand, refusing to turn away folks in need, with a goal of setting individuals on a path to be contributing members of their families and society as a whole. Their biggest reason for the success of the program is the use of peers, which allows people to see hope for themselves in those who have made it out of drug and alcohol abuse. Two-thirds of their staff are former program participants.
We met their kitchen manager on our tour of the facility—a former participant in the program on the women’s campus—who talked to us about the benefits of a peer-led program and how she uses the kitchen as an opportunity to teach job skills that participants can then take out into the workforce after completing the program. They serve 225 meals at the men’s campus and more than 120 meals at the women’s campus each day.
People are in this program because they want to be in the program, and typically stay in the program from one year to 18 months, and their completion rate is 20 percent. There are different stages of the program that participants work through during their stay, including added privilege and responsibility with each step. Upward mobility is a motivator for success. One-third of their revenue comes from the Wake County Board of Alcoholic Control. The rest comes from individuals, churches, and other organizations.
Similar to Triangle Family Services, Healing Transitions is overcrowded and launching a capital campaign. They have a relationship with Wake County Emergency Medical Services and have a pilot program to deal with the opioid crisis, which was mentioned frequently during our tour.
During our visit to Healing Transitions, Leadership Raleigh participated in an impactful, moving simulation of what is feels like to be impoverished. This was not even a sliver of what the reality is for those living in poverty, but it was an enlightening experience to help understand some of the common elements of living in poverty, including:
- How logistically complicated it is to be poor
- How expensive it is to be poor
- How defeating it is to be in need, and not have all the information you need to survive while feeding and protecting your family
The room was set up with services (employer, bank, mortgage company, grocery store, pawn shop, social services, homeless shelter, etc.) along the periphery that you could visit for the cost of a transportation pass. These passes, which are likened to a bus pass for a family without a vehicle, seem innocuous, but they cost a dollar, unless you didn’t have a pass in which case it cost two dollars to obtain. Most families have three or more people, so that is three dollars each time you are attempting to go somewhere, even if the visit wasn’t fruitful because the service provider was closed. For example, our family took our three passes to get to the mortgage company because we could not leave children at home alone. When we arrived, the mortgage company was closed, so we lost those passes.
Our group was given appliances, jewelry, and cameras that we could sell at the pawn shop, which we attempted to do in order to get money for mortgage, utilities, and food. Even though the value of the appliances was $100, the pawn shop would only give you $50, and if the shop was full of appliances or whatever you were selling, they wouldn’t take anything and you were stuck with an inability to sell your valuables for cash.
The little sister character in our family went to school but was kicked out and went home. Because of her age, she was put in jail for being home alone. Getting out of jail was $200, which our family was struggling to afford food, so this cost was exorbitant. The thing I kept coming back to was how hard people have to work just to survive and that being poor was not a lazy man’s game. In order to get social services benefits, we were sent through so much red tape, and those benefits only covered a small portion of what we needed for housing, utilities, and food. Our family failed at our mission, we were evicted because we couldn’t afford our mortgage or utilities, landed in jail multiple times, were unable to feed ourselves, and ended up with nothing. There were families that succeeded in getting by, but those examples were scarce.
I left that simulation with a better understanding, but a sick feeling in my stomach about how hard it is to survive as a low income family in our community. I also left motivated to do something about it, at a minimum to help bring awareness to the conversation about poverty and low-income housing options in our area. We have to change the conversation. Poor people are not lazy, and the simulation lasted one hour for us, each week being represented by 15 minutes of time and a whistle indicating the start and stop of the week. I do not know how people do what they do to survive, and I think it is our responsibility as leaders of our community to change the conversation.
Washington Terrace and Meadow Creek Affordable Housing Communities
Our final two stops on the tour included a drive through of Washington Terrace, which was under construction, and a walking tour of Meadowcreek Commons, a senior community which has been open for approximately two years. DHIC, a local non-profit founded in 1974 by the City of Raleigh, is constructing the Washington Terrace redevelopment project, including 245 units on 23 acres, which five years ago was a community in foreclosure. They have affordable housing opportunities for families, individuals, and seniors including a childcare center that can support 75 pre-kindergarten children and is run by the Methodist Home for Children. There are program services for families, a community garden, a play space partnership with Kaleidoscope and North Carolina State University.
Wake County did a 20-year affordable housing plan study and found that our county currently needs 56,000 affordable housing units, and that 37,000 Wake County residents are paying in excess of 50 percent of their annual income for housing (rent and utilities), which is not sustainable. In 2009, in Wake County, incomes increased by 10 percent, and housing costs went up by 30 percent. If we can provide enough affordable housing, we can limit many unintended costs to our community, including emergency services such as hospitals and police. North Carolina added 2,600 units, limit is per capita for the state, which is not even a drop in the bucket of the affordable housing needs in our area.
DHIC was asked how we can help and they said advocacy was what they needed most, but also vote for housing bonds and talk to our elected officials to help change the conversation. They are always looking for volunteer board members as well as land downtown near transportation. Housing is tied to every part of our lives.