‘Pandemic within a pandemic’: New tally reveals Wake County’s homeless population has doubled since 2020

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RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) — The number of homeless people in Wake County has nearly doubled since 2020, according to a new report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Point-in-Time Count attempts to determine the number of homeless people in a city or county on a given night.

The 2022 tally for Wake County showed a 68% increase from 2021 and a 99.5% increase from 2020.

Kim Crawford, executive director of the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End Homelessness, called the situation “a pandemic within a pandemic.”

“Homelessness is a life or death situation, Crawford said. “It’s not necessarily a characteristic of a person, but it happens to be the situation they find themselves in. And it’s a precarious and dangerous situation. That being said, we’ve seen a big increase of our unprotected population over the past two years.”

Many financial and professional insecurities caused by COVID-19 have led to an increase in homelessness. Additionally, the lifting of the eviction moratorium put in place to protect residents during the pandemic has increased the homeless population.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only had an effect on individuals, it has also had an effect on shelters. The 620 accommodation beds available before the pandemic had to be reduced to around 400 beds for security reasons, leaving many without beds available.

“These 200 people have to go somewhere and we have nowhere to go,” Crawford said.

In addition to the insufficient number of shelter beds, the lack of affordable housing remains another reason for the prevalence of homelessness.

“Homelessness ends with a home, and we don’t have enough,” Crawford said. “We already know that; we hear this every day. We hear that house prices are skyrocketing. The same thing is happening in our rental market. Rents are also going up. That means we have less and less and less units available at fair market rent or below.”

Homelessness disproportionately affects black people in Wake County. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, black people made up 21% of Wake’s population, but make up about 73% of that year’s homeless count.

Crawford said a major cause of this remains generational poverty, systemic oppression, historical injustices and lack of fairness in institutions such as the criminal justice system, health care and education. .

Along with more affordable housing, Crawford said advocacy is needed to inspire awareness and change.

“I think we have to plead,” Crawford said. “I think our community needs to recognize when we talk about injustices, those who know injustices are the ones who have to experience them. Those who don’t know them, they don’t know them. Ignorance is not bliss in this particular situation.”

The point-in-time count is done every January and remains a way to calculate the number of people without homes, according to the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness.

According to the 2022 point-in-time count, 1,534 people were homeless in Wake County on the night of the count. The number isn’t perfect and is generally considered an undercount, according to the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness.

Crawford said while homelessness may continue to remain a problem, individuals need to step up and try to find solutions.

“People are still going to have serious, persistent mental illnesses. People are still going to lose their jobs. People are still going to get divorced. Veterans are still going to come back from combat,” Crawford said. “But it’s how quickly we as a community recognize them as human beings and we respond appropriately. And instead of trying to blame the individual, we try to help .”

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