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Orange County residents and organizations discuss food security, homelessness


(Left to right) Dominika Goazdazinka, Ashley Heger and Allison De Marco make a list of the crowd's causes at the Carrboro Century Center. The goal of Monday's workshop was to educate community members how to make a difference in society.

Local community organizations had one message on Monday: you are the answer.

Around 70 community members joined the Family Success Alliance, Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness and the Orange County Food Council for the Charity and Justice Community Workshop at the Carrboro Century Center on Monday. 

Allison De Marco, outgoing chairperson of the leadership team of the OCPEH, said the event was meant to share the three hosting organizations’ work with the community and raise awareness on the difference between charity and justice approaches to human need.

“Our organizations have been working with the county to really think about systems change and how we make, how we impact issues of poverty and homelessness and food insecurity in a more lasting and systematic way,” she said.

She said providing shelter or food to people experiencing homelessness or food insecurity is an example of a charity response, while expanding affordable housing is an example of a justice response.

Syndee Kraus, a Carrboro resident, said she came to the event because she was interested in the topic.

She said it can be difficult to know how to respond to human need. 

“My husband and I give charitably and want to be actively involved, but you don’t always know that what you’re doing is helping,” she said. 

During the event, community members broke off into groups and were assigned topics like homelessness, unemployment, hunger and access to health care. They were subsequently asked to think of causes of the issue, as well as charity and justice responses.

When one community member asked if event attendees were allowed to switch groups after seeing his assignment, Ashley Heger, the coordinator of the OCFC, empowered him to stick with his original topic.

“Recognize that everyone has a level of expertise in some way to bring to this conversation,” she said.

De Marco said the shift in administration at the federal level has prompted greater attention to some of the issues addressed in the presentation.

“With the new administration at the federal level, we’ve seen a lot more both resistance and folks coming together to think about how we might address these issues,” she said. “There are a lot more conversations around race, racism, racial equity – across the country and in our community.” 

Corey Root, a coordinator of the OCPEH, also facilitated the event. During the March 20 Chapel Hill Town Council meeting, Root said while 12 percent of the overall population in Orange County is Black, 46 percent of Orange County’s homeless population is Black. 

She said this is consistent with statewide and nationwide data and is not an accident.

“We know that this is the result of direct, systemic racism and direct policies and practices in the area of housing for years and years and years going back decades,” she said. “So this is something, and the reason why we address racial equity along with all of our other goals to end homelessness.”

De Marco said it is difficult to envision what exactly a just society looks like.

“We’ve grown up in a society that perpetuates white supremacy systems and because of that we don’t really know what something else looks like potentially,” she said. 

Root discussed alarming local trends in homelessness. While the number of people experiencing homelessness has decreased by 15 percent nationwide and 24 percent statewide, it has increased by 13 percent in Orange County.

Multiple facilitators suggested including the voices of those who have experienced the issues mentioned in the workshops, such as poverty or homelessness, in the discussion. De Marco said she hopes the workshop contributes to an ongoing dialogue. 

“We want this to be a conversation, collaborative work within our community, across our towns and our county, both with the governments and with the community organizations and just really a way for us to have a conversation that continues,” she said.

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