Homelessness in the Chapel Hill area cannot be ignored, and
organizations like the IFC and Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness
work to find permanent housing for the large numbers of homeless people in the area.
“We have a crisis in our community of trying to find enough
affordable rental housing for people who are homeless,” said Jamie Rohe,
program coordinator for the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness.
Benfield said since Chapel Hill is a college town, and there
are so many UNC Hospitals employees, the housing situation in the area is
In 2015, Orange County, including Chapel Hill, Carrboro and
Hillsborough, has seen the highest number of homeless people since 2011, according to the Point-in-Time counts taken annually at the end of January.
The difficulties homeless people face can be attributed to
various causes, whether a loss of full-time work or sudden illness.
“What I’ve learned about homelessness is that a lot of it
that just doesn’t fit the stereotype of homelessness,” said Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens. “Any one person’s story can be very, very different from
Of the 129 homeless people counted by Point-in-Time, 109 of them had found
emergency shelter or transitional housing, but the other 20 were not as
The number of adults without children with them on the night
of the count was 101. Twenty-five of them have been classified as chronically
homeless, meaning they have a disability and have been homeless for at least a
year or have been homeless at least four times in the past three years.
The biggest portion of homeless adults in Chapel Hill are
mentally ill, making up 23 percent of the homeless population, followed by substance
abuse disorder at 14 percent of the population. But in North
Carolina, people with substance abuse disorder are the majority.
Rohe said there is a lack of social service available to
help these people find permanent, affordable housing due to recent federal
“If you stumble and there is nothing there to catch you, you
fall further and further and further and become more damaged because of it,”
The numbers of homeless people in the Chapel Hill area have
been stable over the past five years, and efforts throughout the area to end
homelessness have given Orange County the lowest counts throughout
Other counties, such as Durham County and Buncombe
County, had much higher counts of homeless people, totaling 813 and 627 people
Buncombe County’s trend followed that of Orange County, with
a majority of the homeless population made up of the mentally ill, whereas
Durham County followed the state trend.
While Orange County’s counts of homeless people are lower than
any other county in the state, organizations like the IFC have made efforts to meet the lower counts of previous years.
Michael Reinke, executive director of the IFC, said in
a community like Chapel Hill, where services are being provided, it is
fundamental that the people providing the services can live in the
community as well.
“When it comes down to it, the biggest problem we’re facing
is that the people that are working in Chapel Hill and Carrboro cannot afford
to live in Chapel Hill and Carrboro,” Reinke said.