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North Carolina housing shortage, instability negatively impacts mental health

Director of Admissions and Outreach Abbie Vaughn of Caramore Community, a non-profit organization that provides support programs for adults that struggle with mental health, is pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.

Housing instability — a body of issues including trouble paying rent, overcrowding, homelessness or spending the bulk of household income on housing — has been seen to contribute to mental health issues among individuals, especially in recent years.

Housing instability is a prominent issue facing many North Carolina residents. About 348,000 renter households in North Carolina are at an extremely low-income level and 69 percent of these households have severe housing cost burdens, according to data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. 

The state has a deficit of almost 200,000 rental homes for people who fall into the extremely low-income category.

Currently, a number of UNC students do not have guaranteed on-campus housing for the 2023-2024 school year. One such student, Bevin Adams, said the situation has been troubling.

“I would just like more communication and just understanding [as to] why we don't have housing,” Adams said. 

She said she is anxious about the situation, but that UNC is currently offering no mental health resources to students directly impacted by the lack of housing in the coming school year.

As of 2022, North Carolina is one of the top states for housing instability among college students, with 17 percent of them facing housing insecurity.

Heather Griffin-Dolciney, the clinical and operations director at the Freedom House Recovery Center in Chapel Hill, said she has seen the negative impact housing instability can have.

“I think it has a great effect on the mental health of individuals because housing serves as the foundation of security and stability in people's lives,” Griffin-Dolciney said. 

Griffin-Dolciney said a lot of individuals the Freedom Recovery Center works with do not have homes. She said the organization works to help these individuals connect to peer support and case management that will help them find affordable housing. 

Along with these resources, Griffin-Dolciney said the community would benefit from a full spectrum of mental health services, including more case management and more comprehensive teams that serve people that are uninsured. 

She said many people have both severe mental health and substance use disorders, yet there are not a lot of services for those diagnosed. 

The Caramore Community is an organization located in Carrboro that aims to empower adults living with severe and persistent mental illness in North Carolina by helping assist individuals in defining their goals and developing skills to be successful. 

According to Caramore Community, certain individuals with severe and persistent mental illness face obstacles while finding employment and obtaining affordable and safe housing.

Abbie Vaughn, director of admissions and outreach at Caramore Community, said the community changes people’s lives. She also said they help homeless individuals learn how to live independently by teaching them skills like cooking, shopping, maintaining a job and socializing. 

“We've had people graduate our program and then go get certified to be peer support specialists and then become a Caramore employee serving Caramore clients,” Vaughn said. “So, people get to go live independently and have a fulfilling life, a lot of times, by the time that they complete our program.”

Vaughn said the community offers a variety of different housing programs designed to serve those with severe mental illness. These services include vocational rehabilitation, transitional housing, peer support and individual support services.

Though Caramore offers a variety of services, Vaughn said the community should offer more mental health resources to those facing housing instability. She said Caramore has certain eligibility requirements, including that an individual must have a health care provider and must be medication-compliant. 

“A lot of times, people can't come to our program because they don't have the resources to have a provider, they can't get a doctor, they can't get their medicine,” Vaughn said. 

She added that providing people with medication is a big stepping stone to help people get resources as, without it, some individuals may struggle to find housing.

Griffin-Dolciney said accessing housing security can make all the difference for some individuals because they are able to continue forward with uninterrupted mental health care.

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“They are able to find work in the communities where they live, to be able to support themselves and continue to afford their housing,” Griffin-Dolciney said. “They've been able to create friend groups and that additional layer of security that comes with having a stable place to live and an unchanging group of peers.”


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