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United Way targets Triangle’s needs

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By Todd Cohen

RESEACH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — The Triangle is growing rapidly but faces critical human needs.

Those are the conclusions of a new report by Triangle United Way, which aims to raise awareness about the region’s problems, engage the community in developing strategies to address those problems, and set priorities for investing funds to support those strategies.

“People need to be aware,” says Craig Chancellor, Untied Way president and CEO.

The population of Durham, Orange and Wake counties has grown 16 percent since 2000 to over 1.1 million, and is expected to grow another 14 percent by 2010, says the report, “Counting on the Triangle,” a statistical “snapshot” of the region’s health and human services.

But the report, which tracks data on population, poverty, affordable housing, homelessness, disability, mental illness, abuse, child care, education, juvenile justice, health care and substance abuse, also finds, for example, that:

* One in eight residents lives in poverty.

* One in eight spends too much of their income on housing.

* One in six of the region’s more than 1,800 homeless people is a child.

* One in three residents age 18 and older has a mental illness.

* One in 17 residents age 25 and older lacks a high school diploma.

* Nearly 900 youth entered the juvenile justice system in 2005, and 15 percent of them were active in or connected to gangs.

Chancellor says the report documents “root causes” of social problems that often are interconnected, such as mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness and abuse.

“Poverty is key,” he says. “There are too many people that we allow to live in poverty. In addition, it’s increasing. It’s a problem that society does not like to see. Society too often turns a blind eye to poverty.”

But poverty underlies a broad range of problems like a poorly educated populace, he says.

“One of the most severe problems we face now over the next 10 years is that Baby Boomers are going to be retiring,” he says. “There is a clear lack of people who have the education and technical skills to replace the Baby Boomers.”

And the perception of the prevalence of gangs, which begin recruiting members as early as age seven, Chancellor says, can hurt economic development because companies find it hard to get employees to live in communities with gangs.

The report represents one of a series of tools United Way is creating to help develop local and regional initiatives to address human needs, he says.

Those tools will include:

* A report this fall that will profile programs that have proven effective in addressing local health and human-services problems.

* Community profiles of Wake, Durham and Orange counties that United Way will develop by the end of this year.

* A new formula United Way will develop by the end of this year for allocating among the three counties the dollars it raises in its annual fall fund drive. The new formula will be phased in starting in 2008 with the allocation of funds raised this fall.

* Priorities United Way “community cabinets” in the three counties will set in 2008 for investing the dollars allocated to their respective counties.

* Priorities United Way will set in 2008, based on the priorities for each county, for investing funds to address regional problems.

The local and regional priorities set in 2008 will be phased in starting in 2009 for the investment of funds raised in the fall of 2008.

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