Ending Homelessness with Housing for New Hope

As of February 2021, there were 391 people experiencing HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) defined homelessness in Durham County. One might think this number to be low, but this is based on a count done on (historically) the coldest night of the year. As of February, 391 people had nowhere else to go—and thus had to sleep outside—on the coldest night of the year. Housing for New Hope (HNH) is one of the leading agencies in Durham with the ambitious goal of ending homelessness, one valuable person at a time. Their aim is that someday, everyone in Durham will not just have a place to stay on the coldest night of the year, but that everyone will have a place to call home.

As ambitious as this sounds, HNH recognizes that many causes contribute to homelessness; the spectrum from the first night living unhoused to finding stable and permanent housing is long and complicated. And while many great agencies and shelters provide help at both ends of the spectrum, Housing for New Hope distinguishes itself as a transitional housing agency, affordable housing operator, and community case management organization.

As a graduate student in theology and ministry with a background in organizational leadership, I was drawn to Housing for New Hope’s commitment to data-informed decisions undergirded by the motivation to provide a basic right to our disadvantaged neighbors. I have always been committed to the idea that everyone deserves basic human rights. Working with Housing for New Hope is a way for me to put that commitment into action. Through Duke Engage, I will be working to strengthen current—and establish more—partnerships between Housing for New Hope and communities of faith in Durham. In my time working with these partnerships, one of my main projects will be to gain a better understanding of the Lay Person’s perception of homelessness. It often seems the case that those with the resources to assist their economically disadvantaged neighbors may not have a full picture of the dynamics and issues surrounding homelessness. To fully understand these perceptions, I will be creating a survey and working with different communities of faith that are currently involved with HNH’s work. The survey will include questions surrounding members’ perceptions concerning what they believe typically causes homelessness; what current barriers to homelessness might be; whether or not they believe that homelessness is a cause with a cure, and others. The survey and subsequent analysis will assess and explain an aspect of the current ways that church members are involved in and perceive the housing crisis in Durham and those who are most affected by it.

My hope is that this project, and working with various communities of faith, will help Housing for New Hope in its mission to end homelessness in Durham. Homelessness is a communal issue and it takes a community to solve it. In this work, I expect to further cultivate my own communal economic justice sensibilities. Growing up in the church, I bring my own set of experiences and perceptions of what economic justice looks like. This project will hopefully provide a framework for myself and other community members to start working towards a common goal and a unified vision of housing stability for all.