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Homeless conference called off

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Ret Boney

The 2008 North Carolina Conference on Homelessness would have been the 11th gathering of leaders and advocates from across the state working on behalf of homeless people.

The conference, which was scheduled for Nov. 17-18 in Raleigh and last year drew about 500 attendees, was scuttled because of state government budget cuts.

The event, titled “Success in a Time of Change,” was canceled by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services after Gov. Mike Easley called on all state departments to trim their budgets by at least 2 percent. Easley’s request is an attempt to shore up state government finances amid the nationwide financial crisis.

“The concern is there will be increased demand for services, so there’s a focus on making sure there is money for critical-needs services,” says Martha Are, homeless policy specialist for the North Carolina Interagency Council for Coordinating Homeless Programs.

Almost 11,000 people were homeless in North Carolina as of January 2007, when a point-in-time survey was conducted in communities across the state.

And the economic turmoil and associated housing crisis could put additional pressures on a particularly vulnerable population.

“Anytime the housing market has turmoil, one of the implications is people who are more fragile in their housing status become more vulnerable,” says Are.

While several cities and counties across the state have developed 10-year plans to end chronic homelessness, and therefore have put some concrete steps in place, many others have not.

“Communities that haven’t already been taking some intentional steps in that direction will be more vulnerable because they have less infrastructure in place,” Are says.

Denise Neunaber, executive director of the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness, says the conference would have provided attendees with critical information, training and resources for the fight against homelessness, as well as an opportunity to network.

“The real loss is the united message people would have gotten,” she says.

The coalition now is developing a schedule for providing virtually the training it would have led at the conference, Neunaber says.

“We’re committed to getting this information out there,” she says.

Are says that, because the Department of Health and Human Services has suspended all non-mission-critical travel, the Interagency Council also plans to move to online virtual trainings for the time being.

“We don’t want to stop everything, so we’ll do the best we can,” she says.

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