Eric Knight, an owner of Steel String Brewery; Molly De Marco, a nutrition professor at UNC; and Tamara Sanders, manager at the Clean Machine bike shop, led a public homelessness forum at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro on Wednesday to discuss the issues of homelessness, hunger and poverty in the area.
Knight said discussions with community businesses on topics such as homelessness prompted his desire to initiate the forum. Through the discussions, he realized gaps in his knowledge about community issues. He said the goal of the forum was to engage more people in the conversation and spark further discussion.
“It really wasn’t about business for me,” Knight said. “It was more about there being a communication gap between services and the general public.”
The forum follows the Inter-Faith Council’s proposal to consolidate the IFC food pantry and community kitchen into one location in downtown Carrboro. De Marco, a member of the strategy team with Orange County Justice United, said downtown businesses were concerned that this remodel would have a negative impact on business in the area.
De Marco said although the IFC’s proposal was not the focus of the forum, another goal was to inform the public on what the homeless population looks like and to encourage interaction between business owners and the community.
“It’s not only a problem for them, having to deal with the embarrassment of being in this situation,” she said. “It’s also a problem for the community and businesses. Many people are not informed on the issue, and when you’re not informed, it’s hard to know what to do to help.”
The 2015 point-in-time count for homeless people in Orange County is 101 adults and 19 children. Satana Deberry, executive director of the N.C. Housing Coalition, was a panelist at the forum and said these statistics can be misleading.
“Much of homelessness goes unseen,” she said. “A lot of it includes individuals who are couch surfing or are going through a cycle of having housing and then being displaced because they can’t afford it.”
Deberry said a primary issue is the lack of affordable housing. She said it is not that citizens do not have income but rather their income is too low. In Orange County, an individual has to make $14.68 per hour to afford fair market two-room apartment.
“We have to talk about housing being at the center of everything you do,” Deberry said. “How does a kid do their homework if they don’t have a place to stay? Where do these people go at the end of the work day?”
Knight said there are plans to hold another next month to expand upon the issues discussed.
“Many different issues beyond housing are related to this issue and need to be addressed,” Knight said. “After this conversation I know that there’s a desire to talk about employment, race and food access — which I’m particularly interested in.”