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Raleigh City Council approves $5 million for new pilot program to address homelessness

Credit: iStock

by Greg Childress, NC Newsline
May 9, 2024

The Raleigh City Council has approved spending $5 million on a new pilot program that includes a component to provide direct rent assistance to unsheltered individuals.

The council approved funding for the “Unsheltered Homelessness Response Program” on Tuesday during its regular business meeting.

Approximately $1.9 million is earmarked for direct subsidies to unsheltered individuals living in camps and $1.1 million for administrative cost and staffing. As many as 40 households will receive monthly subsidies to help people experiencing homelessness move into permanent housing. Emila Sutton (Photo: City of Raleigh)

“At it’s roots, homelessness is a housing problem and this might sound obvious, but in practice many of the strategies to address homelessness are overly focused on social services rather than the thing that actually ends homelessness, which is housing,” Emila Sutton, director of Raleigh’s Housing & Neighborhoods Department, told the council.

Another $2 million will go to expand housing options for individuals exiting homelessness. Most of the money — $1.6 million — will be used to repair city-owned rental units at Studios at 2800, a hotel converted to housing for people experiencing homelessness. The remainder will be used to make repairs to other affordable housing options.

City staffers will ask the council for additional funds for homelessness prevention and diversion initiatives and support for nonprofits during the city’s annual budget process. The city also pledged to work with local agencies and stakeholders to develop a community-wide unsheltered homelessness response strategy.

The pilot program comes less than a month after Raleigh police were asked to clear a tent encampment of more than 40 people off of U.S. 70 near Garner. Critics argued that forcing unhoused people to leave the encampment was tantamount to criminalizing homelessness.

“While I think this new program has merit, getting people into affordable housing is the only real answer to our collective shame,” said Patrick O’Neill, a Garner resident who organized a press conference last month to protest the removal of the people in the encampment. “The elimination of poverty is attainable in this country. We must have the will to do it.”

According to a City of Raleigh press release, more than 6,000 individuals seek homelessness support services. The 2023 Wake County Point in Time Count found that 900 individuals experience homelessness in Wake County on any given night. That’s a 200% increase since 2020.

“Clearing camps is not a solution,” Sutton said. “It just displaces people, harms their trust in local government and spends money on something that does not solve the problem.”

Sutton said taxpayers spend $35,000 a year on one person experiencing homelessness, which outweighs the estimated $32,000 subsidy to build one affordable housing unit or the $18,000 to $20,000 a year to provide rent assistance.

“The best solution to reducing the public cost of homelessness is to move people into housing,” Sutton said.

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

This story is republished from NC Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.

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