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New Orange County Housing Director Corey Root hopes to normalize department's work

Corey Root, Orange County Housing and Community Development Director, poses outside of her home in Hillsborough, North Carolina on Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021.

Corey Root began her new role as the housing and community development director for Orange County on Monday.

In this position, Root will be leading the Orange County Housing and Community Development Department to further the affordability and availability of housing, economic opportunity and adequate living conditions.

Root has spent the past five years working as the coordinator for the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, where she worked with Criminal Justice Resource Director Caitlin Fenhagen to establish the Street Outreach, Harm Reduction and Deflection Program. This initiative connects locals experiencing homelessness with housing and other services.

Fenhagen said Orange County has a lot of wealth, but many people here also have so little.

"Corey is absolutely focused on trying to balance this out so that we make sure that housing is a right and housing is available for everybody," Fenhagen said.

Root said they often are so busy "in the trenches" that they forget to talk about the good work they are doing.

"I think that is a piece that could be new," Root said. "Really telling the story of the hundreds of folks that we've prevented from being evicted, and prevented from ever experiencing homelessness, and the hundreds of folks that are exiting from homelessness into housing.”

Donald Hardin, who experienced homelessness himself for around 15 years, now works as a peer support navigator for the Street Outreach, Harm Reduction and Deflection Program. 

Hardin said Root took a chance with him when he was hired, and she took the time to help him through his transition to the new position.

"She took time and showed me how to do a lot through this type of work," Hardin said.

He said after experiencing homelessness, Root gave him the opportunity to help others get off the streets.

Because of the previous housing and community development director Emila Sutton's background in homelessness, Root said it would be easy to continue working with those who experience homelessness in her new position.

"I've inherited quite a great opportunity where Emila has really teed everything up and done a lot of the heavy lifting," she said. “She got us through the pandemic which was an incredibly taxing time to work in housing and homelessness.”

Root said one of her largest goals was to normalize the Housing and Community Development Department's work as the county starts to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said she knows her staff can't provide trauma-informed care to those in the community if they themselves feel burnt out, so she sees breaks and vacations are necessary to maximize the level of care they offer.

Her first day on the job, though, was a lot like many other days recently, she said.

"I feel like normally on your first day you're like going to the new place and meeting all the new people," Root said. "But in a lot of ways I feel like it was very similar to a lot of other days recently, where I was working from home and doing the things."

She said that regardless of this unusual start, she is extremely excited about the opportunity.

@DTHCityState |

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