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Wednesday May 5th

These Orange County women help provide resources to the housing insecure

Emila Sutton poses for a portrait in Durham on Sunday, Apr. 4, 2021. Sutton currently serves as Orange County's Director of Housing and Community Development.
Buy Photos Emila Sutton poses for a portrait in Durham on Sunday, Apr. 4, 2021. Sutton currently serves as Orange County's Director of Housing and Community Development.

On the heels of Women’s History Month, The Daily Tar Heel is spotlighting six women in Orange County’s public safety system who have helped each of their departments reform the old and create new protocols to aid the community. This is the second section of a two-part series, the first of which you can read here

These three women work to care for and provide resources to those who experience homelessness in Orange County. 

Corey Root, Orange County Homeless Programs coordinator

For five years, Corey Root has managed the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness. The OCPEH is a collaboration of various service providers working on the best practices to end homelessness in Orange County. 

Root began her career far from the world of public safety — she graduated from the New York University Film School in 1996, moved to Raleigh, and worked for 10 years in the world of television.  

In 2007, Root sold her house, most of her belongings and bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok. For five years she was a globe-trotter and spent the latter years of that time working for Doctors Without Borders. That work brought her to a beach in Zanzibar, Tanzania, where she had a conversation with a fellow U.S. American administrator who helped her find a new career path back in North Carolina. 

“I got in touch with some grad school friends, one of them with the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness,” Root said. 

Root said her friend from graduate school offered her a chance to learn about health and homelessness in North Carolina, and that’s when she joined NCCEH — setting up the next part of her life working in housing and homelessness for the Triangle area.

So when the position to manage the OCPEH opened up, Root said she felt lucky to have the opportunity to take a dream job in a progressive community like Orange County.

“For the moment we’re just trying to keep our feet underneath us,” Root said. “At this time last year it was just me, I was the only employee of the partnership, and now we have 12 staff. It’s just been exponential growth.” 

Emila Sutton, housing and community development director for Orange County 

Emila Sutton works closely with those who experience homelessness as the housing and community development director for Orange County.  Though she’s only held the position for about a year and a half, Sutton has transformed and maintained one of Chapel Hill’s most critical departments.   

“I really wanted the opportunity to have more impact and more connections to the people that are being served by affordable housing and housing programs,” Sutton said.

Sutton first discovered this while working in an AmeriCorps VISTA program in Tucson, Arizona. Between her work in the program’s transitional housing facility and those who resided in the homeless shelter across the street, she knew this was her kind of work. Sutton continued to take jobs in the sector until she ultimately ended up in Chapel Hill. 

Sutton is one of Orange County’s principal organizers for programs like the Emergency Housing Assistance program and the Street Outreach, Harm Reduction and Deflection team, both of which were activated this year to assist those who find themselves without resources for housing or shelter. 

“We also just know how impacted people are by living in unstable housing,” Sutton said. “Child development, for example, children who are raised in housing that is unsafe or unstable, and there is a link there between education and between criminal justice involvement for those children who have those unstable housing situations.”

Tiffany Hall, clinical coordinator for the Orange County Street Outreach, Harm Reduction and Deflection Team

Founded only six months ago, the SOHRAD program is a team made up of two “men-on-the-street” — peer navigators Don Hardin and Brandon Morande — as well as Tiffany Hall, a clinical coordinator and a specialist in mental health and conflict deflection. The team works to connect those who experience homelessness in Orange County to the resources they need, aiming to deflect individuals from law enforcement and justice system involvement.

“The mental health and substance abuse piece, that would be very important for the deflection portion from law enforcement,” Hall said.

Prior to working with the SOHRAD team, Hall worked at a mental health hospital. Before that, she worked in the field for six years, several of which she spent working an internship at a women’s prison. 

Hall said that experience prepared her to become the SOHRAD clinical coordinator. This position requires sharp assessment skills of a person’s needs with their emotional or physical wellbeing and the ability to quickly connect them to the resources they need. 

“I think listening to people’s stories and meeting them where they are definitely came from work with the prison,” Hall said.

@Emmy.Trivette

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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