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Homelessness spreads

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More women, families, immigrants becoming homeless.

By Jennifer Whytock

RALEIGH, N.C. [04.06.04] — Raleigh resident Cleo Fowlkes, her husband and her three children will be homeless by the end of this month if they cannot come up with $3,000 to pay back rent.

To see them and talk with them does not conjure up images of homelessness: The kids are talkative and all smiles, and Fowlkes is clear-minded about their plight.

“We need to clear up our bad credit problem,” she says. “I receive enough disability payments to help pay the rent, but my husband is having a hard time finding work.”

At a forum for the Raleigh/Wake County 10-Year Action Plan to End Homelessness, Fowlkes quickly got help from the Rev. James Galloway, executive director of Pan Lutheran Ministries, who was sitting next to her.

He introduced her to staff from Triangle Family Services, which helps people restore bad credit, and asked her to call Pan Lutheran the day she is evicted so the group could help her find a place to stay.

The forum, the second in a monthly series, brought together nonprofits, government officials, former homeless people and the general public to address the fact that the 1,235 homeless people in Wake County are not just those on street benches.

The forums are sponsored by the city of Raleigh, Wake County and the Wake Continuum of Care Collaborative, a group of 30 agencies serving the homeless.

“The more we know what is happening out there, the better we can create a plan to end homelessness,” said presenter Alice McGee, who runs Church in the Woods in Raleigh.

McGee talked about homeless people learning to survive in forests within 10 miles of the capital, and immigrants who came to the area with work crews, but whose jobs had ended.

Homeless single women and those with children often are fleeing abuse but feel vulnerable in the streets, while families usually are homeless because of recent home evictions, says McGee.

“In 83 percent of the homeless families, the mother was abused, and now on the streets their children are at risk of being abused,” says Galloway.

Family homelessness in Wake County is growing 11 percent a year, making families the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, Galloway says, and 85 percent of the 410 homeless families are African American.

Around small tables at the forum, groups brainstormed ways to help different homeless populations, and Fowlkes said people like her who are close to homelessness, but not yet homeless, often have a hard time getting needed services.

Though 1,235 people were homeless in Wake County in a December 2003 count, another 15,000 to 17,000 people are at risk of becoming homeless soon, says Jack Rogers, director of economic self-sufficiency for Wake’s Department of Human Services.

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