There is Zac, aka Casper View, the guitarist, with his dog, Lela; Reggie, the veteran with cancer; Moses, who, although he shouts at the voices inside his mind, is a threat to no one but himself.

There are others whose names I do not know: A woman new to downtown, who trudges down Main Street, two bags at a time, until she’s relocated to a place she can rest for a little while. The young guy who has told me to fuck off when I have told him I don’t have any money.

More than 800 people are homeless in Durham, a 10-year high. The city’s Community Development department today released the numbers from the annual Point in Time count, conducted statewide each January.


Community volunteers count people staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing and those living outside. However, these figures don’t include the couch-surfers or people who can’t afford a place of their own and are staying with family or friends.

Although the 2014 count was incomplete because of a snowstorm, the number of homeless people in Durham peaked this year at 813. The lowest number was 502, tallied in 2006.

Other notable statistics:

Of the total homeless population, 102 are children.

People who abuse drugs or alcohol account for more than half of the homeless adult population.

527 African-Americans are homeless, compared to 243 whites.

Veterans (138) and people with mental illness (101) also make up a significant portion of the homeless.

However, the number of homeless people who were discharged from jails/prisons and hospitals has fallen dramatically since 2005, possibly because of more focused intervention, housing opportunities and support services.

While the Community Development Department concluded Durham has enough space in emergency and transitional shelters, “the unmet need is for permanent housing.”

Utah has reduced the number of homeless by 72 percent with an obvious but controversial strategy: giving chronically homeless people homes. Not only does this help stabilize the residents’ lives, but it saves money.

Emergency room visits, jail time can cost taxpayers between $30,000 and $50,000 a year—per person, according to Mother Jones. By finding homeless people permanent housing, cities can save an average of $16,00 per person.

It’s not like Durham lacks vacant buildings that could be transformed into permanent housing. A prime example from the private sector: The old Ramada Inn/ failed Duke Studio Condominium project at 601 S. Duke St. could house at least 150 people, and it’s a block and a half from the bus station. However, considering the downtown development pressures, it’s unlikely that property will be reserved for anything approaching affordable.

As for publicly owned property, when the Durham Police Department moves to East Main Street, that building could be turned into permanent housing for the homeless. Again, it’s right on the future rail line and a two blocks from the bus station.

Now, how will Durham get creative about the money?