Upon accepting this community engagement fellowship opportunity, I was told that every day would be something different and each day I would learn something new. Being that I have been part of United Way’s community for over a month, I now know this to be true. I had the honor of spending Friday with UPS as they donated their time volunteering in Durham with Housing for New Hope. This was an incredible day spent seeing a different side of Durham, hearing firsthand accounts of being homeless in Durham, and seeing the emotions of a person as they were removed from homelessness and placed into their own home.
Housing for New Hope is one of United Way’s agency partners working within a collaborative that works to move families and individuals out of homelessness into permanent housing as quickly as possible. Employees explained the process that homeless individuals or families have to go through to receive help from Housing for New Hope. Being so far removed from understanding all that someone facing homelessness must endure, I learned quite a lot and feel very frustrated for the barriers that stand in the way for these agencies working so hard to help more people get out of homelessness. I also feel disappointed that as much as Durham has grown in the past few years, housing in this area is not accessible to many people. A recent article in The Indy states the reality of trying to work and afford housing in Durham, “Condos and apartments are being built—or in the pipeline—throughout the center of the city, Durham Central Park, West Village and most recently at the old Hendrick dealership off Dillard Street. Yet not a single unit is affordable for the average public school teacher, firefighter, police officer, waiter or parking attendant.” Despite the lack of access to affordable housing and the ability for these homeless adults to find a source of income, Housing for New Hope is moving more and more people into permanent housing.
A group of 15 UPS employees and myself moved an individual out of Urban Ministries and into their new home. Moving heavy furniture inside, stocking the pantry and refrigerator, and turning an empty space into a home were just several ways we helped assist this person with their move. However, for this individual-this is their home, their salvation from the daily struggles they faced on the streets, their chance at starting over. Powerful emotions were felt by all that witnessed this moment, a moment that I will not forget.
Throughout the day, Housing for New Hope employees shared that homelessness is a large problem in our community, and it would be near impossible to tackle it all alone as a single agency, but partnering with other agencies that are seeking the same goal helps them use their resources together and reach more people which in the end gets more families off of the street and into stable housing. The efficiency of working together and working towards long-term solutions is why United Way of the Greater Triangle is investing in collaborative work.
As I went home on Friday evening to my comfortable, safe home, I could not stop thinking about that one individual in their new home – what must they be feeling now that it’s quiet and no one is there. Are they scared? Are they lonely? If they doubt themselves at any moment, who is there to support & encourage them? I felt a bit more at ease when I remembered that for one, they’ll have a collaborative team of organizations that will work together to ensure their path towards success.
On Friday all I could think about was this person, and I think that’s important for me to hold onto, because I’ll remember that person when I tell this story to others. I’ll remember them when I go out to dinner in Durham only a few blocks from where their new home is located. I’ll remember them when I see the face of another homeless person in Durham. I will continue to seek out opportunities to be more engaged in the community. Working at United Way of the Greater Triangle has already opened so many more doors out into the community which has opened my eyes to see the community in a different light and engage more meaningfully. Although I’m one person, I know that I can help make a difference, if even in a small way like moving furniture, to ease the hardship on some of my Triangle neighbors.