COVID-19 FAQs for Volunteer Opportunities

Feeding homeless COVID takeoutWe have responded to the uncertainties brought on by COVID-19 by continuing to provide meals through the Community Café, as food is first among all basic needs. Although we have had to temporarily suspend a regular schedule of clothing and food distribution, we are still providing those resources on an emergency basis.

While safety is our top priority, we also know that hundreds of neighbors depend on meal service each day at UMD. If our kitchen closed, it would negatively impact their health and well-being. We have modified and continue to adjust how we serve to prioritize the safety of our staff and volunteers. We are open to suggestions and would like to hear from you.

Currently, meals are served to the community in takeout containers. We have set up a tent outside with a table to provide contactless meal pick up. Volunteers serving at the table are able to maintain social distance while serving. Masks and social distancing are required to enter the line to receive meals.

Meals are still being provided by onsite and offsite volunteers. Here are some of the options that remain available to groups:

  • You can prepare and serve meals onsite. You are able to prepare meals in the UMD kitchen and assist with serving them.
  • You can prepare meals offsite for onsite service at UMD. After delivering them, you may help plate the meals onsite prior to the beginning of meal service and then leave or you may remain to serve.
  • You can prepare meals offsite and make a contactless delivery to UMD. We can meet you outside and remove the meal from your vehicle. We will utilize volunteers to plate and serve the meal. Contactless in-kind donations are also available if scheduled ahead.
  • We can work through a local, low-cost catering company to provide the meal. Please contact us to obtain the cost for this option. Your check can be sent via mail to cover the cost of this option.

We are in need of volunteers.  Here are some answers to some of the top frequently asked questions about volunteering during this time:

  1. Are we still allowing onsite volunteering? Yes, we continue to depend on a small core of volunteers to assist during meal service. We have streamlined our process to require a smaller team of volunteers to allow for social distance.  These volunteers are essential to meeting the nutritional needs of our clients.
  2. What can I expect when I come to volunteer? We ask that you sign in each time that you come to volunteer. You can expect to assist with some basic meal preparation approximately one hour before service. You may help with set-up preparation, plating food and meal service.
  3. Are there any special requirements? We ask that volunteers wear a mask or face covering. We will provide one if you do not have one. Much like a restaurant, we ask that you not come to assist with meal service if you are not feeling well and/or have a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees.
  4. Can I have my temperature checked when I arrive at UMD? Yes, UMD staff members are required to take their temperature daily before reporting to their work station. We are able to take your temperature using an infrared thermometer upon your arrival.
  5. Is there a process to ensure that the kitchen is being sanitized? Yes, the café and the kitchen are both sanitized before and after meal service.
  6. Is there any congregate dining? New: now that residents have returned to the UMD campus, we are providing meals to the residents only in the café. Masks are required for entry, we have removed tables to limit capacity and have added table-top barriers.
  7. What times are meals served?

         Monday through Friday

Breakfast 8-9am   volunteers arrive at 7am

Lunch   bag lunch

Dinner 6-7pm  volunteers arrive at 5pm

         Saturday & Sunday

Breakfast 9:30-10:30am  volunteers arrive at 8:30am

Lunch 12:30-1:30pm   volunteers arrive at 11:30am

Dinner 6-7pm   volunteers arrive at 5pm

  1. How can I get on the schedule to volunteer? Please check with your coordinator first if you are part of a group. If you would like to volunteer on a day that your group is not serving or as an individual, please contact Viki Baker at vbaker@umdurham.org or 919.682.0538 ext. 125.

An Important Statement from Urban Ministries of Durham

Dear Friends,

On June 29, 2020, UMD was notified that a resident of our emergency shelter who had been hospitalized had tested positive for COVID-19, the illness resulting from the novel coronavirus. That client remains in the hospital. Since learning of this test result, we have worked with Durham County public health officials and Duke medical staff to test other residents and all staff. Two additional residents, who are asymptomatic, have now tested positive for COVID-19 and have been moved to an isolation location as required. Public health officials are conducting contact tracing. All UMD shelter staff have tested negative. As a precaution, Duke medical staff will perform follow-up testing of shelter residents and staff later this week and are offering testing to volunteers who want it.

I want to assure you and all our stakeholders that UMD is taking every step recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local authorities to contain the spread of illness.

Since early March, we have worked closely with Durham County government leaders, public health officials and emergency operations to respond effectively to COVID-19.  We have implemented mask-wearing, regular temperature checks, new cleaning procedures and modified services to protect the well-being of clients, staff and volunteers. These measures have included converting meal service from congregate dining to takeout only and moving shelter residents to temporary quarters at a hotel so they could better adhere to social distancing. UMD thanks the Durham County Commissioners for approving funding for this relocation and the Marriott at Research Triangle Park for hosting clients and shelter staff. The county’s contract with the Marriott-RTP ends July 9, and UMD residents will be returning to campus tomorrow, July 8.

New challenges

When residents return, UMD’s shelter will be limited to 83 beds, rather than 149, due to the ongoing need to ensure social distancing. To address this dramatic reduction in spots, we are appealing to supporters to offer clients temporary or permanent rental opportunities and/or to donate beds and linens so shelter residents have a place to sleep when they do move out. UMD is also seeking contributions to Project ROOF (Removing Obstacles to Occupancy Funds), which will help shelter residents exit to housing more quickly by paying for expenses like rental deposits, first month’s rent and utility hook-ups. Donations to this initiative can be made on our website. Please include “ROOF” in the dedication field. You can learn more about all of these opportunities to make a difference by visiting our home page.

In addition to this appeal, UMD is working with Durham County officials to secure a second location for emergency shelter for medically fragile residents and others who cannot be accommodated due to reduced capacity. We are ready to provide offsite staffing and services, which include case management, workforce development, referral to other needed care and three free meals a day.

We will continue to provide you with updates on important developments related to COVID-19 via emails like this, our website and social media channels. We know that Durham has been identified as a ‘county of concern’ for COVID-19 spread and are focused on maintaining as safe an environment as possible. This will enable UMD to continue offering food, shelter and a future to neighbors in need. Thanks so much for your confidence and ongoing support.

With gratitude,

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Sheldon Mitchell, Executive Director

Operation Housing Our Neighbors

The focus of our mission to offer food, shelter, and a future to neighbors in need is always the heart of what we do, but “how” we do that work is just as important. That’s why collaboration is one of our core values. We choose to do this work “with” the community. The current challenge we face and the opportunities it presents is no different.

The Challenge:

The contract for housing the homeless at the RTP Marriott in Durham ends on July 9th. Individual hotel rooms helped keep homeless neighbors COVID-free, but now that it is time to return to UMD, we need to find immediate housing arrangements for 50-60 people. For public health safety, we must cut our 149 person bed list in half. With unemployment at an all-time-high and rising, and evictions looming, more individuals and families will need UMD’s services.

The Opportunities:

To have the greatest impact during our community’s time of need, we need your help to identify and provide housing assistance so that UMD can meet demand while keeping everyone as safe as possible.

This is a tall order. The good news is there are a number of pathways for you to help. We recognize that everyone has been impacted by COVID-19 and it could make you feel like you don’t have much to give. But fear not! If we work together with whatever resources we can bring to the table, we can rise to this challenge! Your role is important! And your contributions are crucial investments in our shared humanity and our shared community by keeping people off the streets during a pandemic and bringing economic stability to our city.

Pick a Pathway:

  • Donate airbeds, mattresses, and linens to UMD. People need shelter, but they also need a bed—especially when the housing process needs to go at warp speed.

 

  • Open your doors. Do you have a rental property or another space that can be made available for either temporary or permanent housing? Or can you help us make the connection with someone who does have these resources? Housing does not have to be local.

 

  • Contribute to Project ROOF (Removing Obstacles to Occupancy Funds). These funds will be used to assist with rental deposits, first month’s rent, utility hook-ups, transportation to identified housing, and other needs directly tied to housing homeless people as quickly as possible.

The Details:

Bestow-A-Bed:

Items can be new or gently used. Sizes: Twin and Full. Drop off at the lobby of 410 Liberty Street under the purple awning (M-F, 10am-4pm).

These items are also listed on our Amazon Wishlist for quick order and delivery.

For questions about donations, contact Viki Baker at (919) 682-0538 ext. 125 or vbaker@umdurham.org.

Supply Shelter:

If you are interested in providing shelter, please contact our Clinical Director, Valerie Haywood by calling or texting her at 919-459-7220 (preferred) or send her an email at vhaywood@umdurham.org.

We are open to discussing a variety of options with you to best fit what you are able to offer and our clients’ needs. However, we are hoping to provide short-term 6-12 months emergency housing opportunities or leases, with hopes that some leases could result in permanent housing.

If you hope to provide a rental opportunity, the majority of our clients will need rental units around $600 or less per person. Our case managers can help identify rent arrangements that succeed for both you and the client.

Raise Revenue for ROOF:

Make a gift online and put “ROOF” in the dedication or send a check to UMD at P.O. Box 249, Durham, NC 27702 with memo line “ROOF.”

You can also think creatively on how to work with friends, family and your fellowship groups to raise money as a team social-distance style.

For questions about donations, contact Joe Daly at (919) 682-0538 ext. 135 or send an email to jdaly@umdurham.org.

Does one of these opportunities strike a chord with you? That’s great! Remember, you are a very important part of the team here at UMD. Let’s do this!

Come and Imagine with Us

Imagine…

that you are a 65-year-old Vietnam Veteran. You’ve always lived with your mother and helped her around the house. You learn that your mother has cancer, and she has lived for a while through various treatments. One morning, you wake up and learn she has passed away. Shortly afterward, you discover that the home you’ve always lived in with her was in fact not hers. She never owned that home or any property. She was a long-time renter. Grief and shock lead you back to drinking alcohol after years of sobriety, and you are not able to secure the lease for yourself. The landlord decides to sell the property. In the blink of an eye, you have lost everything. Your mother, your home, and your sobriety. Everything is spiraling out of control. You are homeless and find yourself seeking shelter. You are not the stereotype of a homeless alcoholic.

Imagine…

that you are single mother of 2, staying with your sister. Your sister takes you to work and helps with your children. Then your sister’s boyfriend starts to flirt with you, and your sister blames YOU for his attraction. Your sister then demands that you leave her home immediately, and she will no longer provide transportation or watch your children for you. You have an amazing relationship with your grandmother, and she wants nothing more than to be there for you. But, the one thing you need most is housing, and she lives in subsidized senior housing; a place where you and your children cannot go. You’ve been saving some of your money, so you get a hotel room and Uber to work. Within a month, you are out of money and struggling to manage afterschool care on your own. You can’t get to work 3 days in a row because you have no transportation and no one to watch your kids. As a result, you lose your job. You have no family support, and you and your children are now homeless. You are not the stereotype of a mother who doesn’t care about her children or want the best for them.

Imagine…

that you grew up in a large metropolitan area, and you’ve dreamed of working in the tech field. You hear that RTP is the place to be for all things related to technology and medicine. You do some research, apply for a job, have a Skype interview, and secure a job offer. You take your small savings of $2,000 and move to Durham for a fresh start. You arrive to the area and love it. You love the job, are eager to start and feel like you have finally made the best decision for your future. On your first day of work, you get a call telling you there is a delay in adding you to the schedule due to over-hiring. On day 2, you are told the same thing again. On day 3, you are told that you are actually on a waiting list due to a hiring freeze. You decide to apply for other jobs, while hoping to get a call from the job you thought you’d secured. Only, you have no experience other than a very specific technology trade. You haven’t found a back-up job, and you now have no money and no Plan B. You are seeking shelter. You didn’t just move on a whim. You thought you had a great plan in place. You are not the stereotype of a poor planner or someone who doesn’t look before they leap.

             We all have a story behind the façade we present to the world each day. Our stories are filled with challenges, and facing those challenges almost always means the experience of pain and loss. We truly are not that different from our neighbors who seek help at UMD. But we must hold that truth in tension with the reality that many of us are more insulated from those challenges resulting in our becoming literally homeless. The best human response is to give thanks, practice affirming our own experiences of pain and loss, and extending compassion. But we must begin to walk towards advocacy. The type of advocacy that acknowledges that our safety nets and other worldly privileges can shield us from being unable to imagine the lived experience of someone who is like us, but different than us. Their experiences may be unimaginable to us, but when we stop to hear it holding the tension of how we are alike and how we are different, we can begin to see the world and other people anew. Changing our frame of reference and understanding is how we can then begin to imagine how someone can become homeless. And as John Lennon once sang, we can then begin to imagine a “world that will live as one.”

Empty Bowls FAQs

Empty BowlsThis year marks the 14th annual Empty Bowls fundraiser for Urban Ministries of Durham. Not only is it our largest fundraising event, but it is an opportunity to feel the solidarity of our community working together toward our mission to end homelessness and fight poverty by offering food, shelter and a future to neighbors in need.

Where did Empty Bowls get started?

In 1990 a high school art teacher in Michigan helped his students solve a problem.  They were searching for a way to raise funds to support a food drive.  What evolved was a class project to make ceramic bowls for a fundraising meal.  Guests were served a simple meal of soup and bread, and were invited to keep the bowl as a reminder of hunger in the world.  By the following year the originators had developed this concept into Empty Bowls, a project to provide support for food banks, soup kitchens, and other organizations that fight hunger. UMD held its first Empty Bowls event in 2007. We outgrew the Durham Armory and had to move across the street to the Durham Convention Center. Today nearly 1000 people attend Empty Bowls each year raising well over $100,000.

What happens at Empty Bowls?

Each year 15 of Durham’s foodie-favorite restaurants donate 20 gallons of soup for a massive soup competition doled out in 3 oz. samples. A select group of local celebrities make up a Judges panel where they pick a Judge’s Choice winner. Attendees “vote” for their favorite soup with their dollars for the coveted People’s Choice Award.  While event-goers no longer scoop soup out of pottery bowls, buying an upgraded ticket can guarantee you a chance to take home a locally crafted ceramic or wooden bowl. Most folks enjoy milling around the Convention Center while sipping soup, nibbling on bread and dessert, picking out or admiring bowls, and catching up with friends.

What types of tickets are available?

Soup tickets ($25) are basic entry tickets. Soup and bowl tickets ($50) allow you to sample soup and pick out one of the regular ceramic bowls. Hot Tickets ($75) get you early bird entry to pick out your bowl 30 minutes before the crowd hits. And Premier Tickets ($125) gets you early entry to pick out a professionally-crafted, high-end bowl. Kids 6 and under get in free! Tickets will go on sale January 31st on Eventbrite: https://emptybowls2020.eventbrite.com

Eventbrite charges user fees, is there a way to get around that?

Using Eventbrite is a critical event management tool for a small team—2 full time staff running multiple operations—to sell multiple ticket types to 1000 people and smoothly check-in ticket holders into the event on the big day. The goal of Empty Bowls is to raise as much money as possible to help those receiving assistance at UMD. Without attendees paying the user fees, UMD would have to pay those costs out of pocket. Fees are never fun, but consider it another important way to support UMD.

Ticket prices increased this year, why is that?

This year we wanted to focus on maximizing the increasing popularity of Empty Bowls to raise even more money for our mission. We’re not just feeding the community the night of Empty Bowls, we’re working to raise enough money to cover the nearly 250,000 meals we serve to hungry and homeless people each year in our Community Café.

Can I deduct the cost of tickets on my taxes?

Yes, but you must deduct the cost of any direct benefits you receive (ie. the soup and bowl). Tax deductible amounts for each ticket are as follows: Soup only $17, Regular $25, Hot $50, Premier $62.

What other changes should I expect this year?

Be on the lookout this year for re-usable totes from our presenting sponsor, The Forest at Duke. Use the bag to help carry your bowl and other goodies picked up at the event, and then bring it back to UMD with items needed in our Food Pantry. Each month, UMD provides free groceries and clothing to over 500 eligible households. The overwhelming majority of these households are young families. Recipients are given re-usable bags to carry their food which serves as a reminder that their community is here to help feed them when they have a need.

 

Creating Jewelry and Worth: A Volunteer’s Story

Jewelry class volunteer
Sue and team sell jewelry at UMD’s annual Empty Bowls fundraiser

At UMD, we have many unique volunteers that take time every month, or even every week to serve their neighbors in need. We are so incredibly grateful for all of them and want to take the opportunity to highlight their stories and experiences. This post will be the first in a series of posts about how they help at UMD and how their volunteer work impacts them and their community!

 

Recently, we talked to Sue Beauchamp, who has been a UMD volunteer since 2016.

 

What do you do?

 

Sue hosts a jewelry class every Friday morning at UMD, open to clients and members of the community. For an hour and a half, clients can come and go as they please and make bracelets, earrings, or necklaces. All of the materials are donated.

 

“You don’t always see the same people.” Some people come in every week, while others wander through the door for the first time with no prior knowledge or skills in jewelry making.

 

Clients can keep the jewelry they make or choose to sell it. “Some of them are really talented. They make some beautiful stuff.” Often, men come in and make jewelry for someone they care about – a significant other or their children that they may not get to see often.

 

“It’s really sweet.”

 

How did you start volunteering?

 

“I used to live in Florida and volunteered at a homeless shelter for pregnant women and single moms.” There, she made quilts, greetings cards, and held bake sales with clients.

 

It touched her heart to see the effect creating things had on clients’ self-esteem, “It transformed the way they felt about themselves… I’m a crafty person. I’ve always liked using the gifts I have and sharing them with others.”

 

A few years later, she moved to Durham and her neighborhood had a group that regularly served breakfast at UMD. Once she started volunteering, she noticed that UMD had a jewelry class and thought it was a great way to share her gifts as she’d done before. She asked the volunteer in charge if she wanted help running the class, and she did. For some time, Sue worked with her, until she began struggling with some health problems and would not be able to run the class anymore.

 

“She needed to step down and I stepped up,” Sue recalls, and she’s been running the class ever since.

 

Why do you volunteer?

 

“To show them that they can do more than they think they can.”

 

Often, clients will come in feeling discouraged and insecure about themselves, Sue told me. Making jewelry offers clients an opportunity to focus their energy on something other than their struggles, socialize with others and build relationships, and make something they’re proud of.

 

“Some people come in that never come in off the street. I think it must be meaningful to them, it must have some value.”

 

It offers clients an opportunity to tell themselves “You are worthy.”

This interview was prompted ahead of Sue’s move outside of the Triangle area. If you are interested in helping with the jewelry class, please contact our Community Engagement team.

2019: Best Moments at UMD

Ahead of this year’s staff holiday party, staff members took some time to reflect on some of the most meaningful, impactful moments that happened here at the shelter in 2019. As we reflect on the past year, we want to share some of these beautiful, behind-the-scenes glimpses of hope for a new future that happened with your support.new-year-3672872_1920

–Feeling excited for a cancer patient moving out of the shelter into permanent housing. Not only does she have a home, but she’s able to share space with her spouse.

–It’s the little things. Maybe someone just asks for something as simple as one pair of socks or a hat. People remember when you do something small for them. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you made a difference. One lady in particular came back and thanked me and now she says ‘hello’ to me every time I see her.

–A man who had been homeless for 30-40 years went from sleeping outside UMD to signing his lease on Friday the 13th!

–Helping a client who came from prison. He wanted to work but had no hope that he would be hired again given his history. We were able to get him a federal bonding letter and connect him to other resources. Having hope he could provide for himself meant he dumped drugs and now has a full-time job.

–A shelter client stopped me in the parking lot to show off a hand towel set she had purchased a month before at the Dollar Store. She bought it to symbolize her hope to get out of shelter and have her own home. And that hope was realized! She was getting ready to move into her new place.

–One of our clients was overwhelmed by multiple debts. We looked up her credit score together and were able to create payment plans with collection agencies. She’s now faithfully paying down those debts and saving for housing by being very vigilant with her finances.

–A few times a year, a former client will return to donate clothing or food items to the shelter. Even if it is something small like a can of soup they bought on a 2 for 1 special, it’s their motivation and gratitude that resonate deeply. They share that they want to donate to help others get back on their feet because UMD was a place that helped them when they needed it.

Thank you for being the backbone of the hopeful moments that often seem to miraculously occur at UMD. We look forward to all that we can accomplish together with your help in 2020!

Seasonal Workers

Seasonal workers“Help wanted.” It’s not roadside Sharpie scrawl on discarded cardboard, but corporate lettering on official promotional signage nestled among holiday decorations. Businesses are hiring, but just for “the season.” It’s almost hard to remember that ‘Black Friday’ is about profit margins for the year rather than risking a black eye from an early morning brawl for the latest “it” toy or heavily discounted television. Cramming in the need to make it financially for the year in a matter of weeks is big business that means extra help at the checkout counter, the customer service help desk, on the stock floor, or driving the delivery truck. These temporary hires are supposedly what help keep us consumers happy, and they’re the elves that keep Santa (and CEOs) in business. All of this extra movement of people and goods is part of the “bustle” of our holidays. And this year, the labor market needs a lot more workers to make the holidays happen.

But there is quite the bustle here at UMD too. Close to 30% of our Workforce Clients who have an over-the-table job are currently involved in this “seasonal work.” Wake-up times are set throughout the early morning hours for workers to make their way from the homeless shelter to work. While they must skip hot breakfast served in the Café at 8am, clients can pick up to-go lunch bags or reserve a late plate for dinner before boarding GoTriangle’s earliest buses. And for some, those meals are extra precious when they have to spend what little they have to catch an Uber because bus schedules or routes don’t meet their needs.

While clients are fatigued by early rising or working double or even triple shifts, many are also energized by these opportunities. Excited to finally land a job after working on résumés and applications with our Workforce Development team, they are hoping that this temporary work gives them a chance to prove their worth or establish much-needed work history. For others, it is a difficult step down from once holding a steady job that gave meaning and identity but is crucial to getting a foot in the door.  At a minimum, such an audition can enable them to become “qualified” for entry-level work, rather than being dismissed as “overqualified.”

But all of our clients are left to wonder what the end of the season will bring. Was all the hustle and bustle, grinning and grunting worth their sweat? Did less than $15 an hour working around the clock bring in what they need to be able to exit into permanent housing? How will they manage the money they’ve earned, weighing the desire to participate in the holidays by spending money on themselves or others vs. saving for a future that feels distant and unsustainable? Will they get a chance to remain on the job after they’ve proven themselves, or were they just expendable parts needed temporarily to power an outsized commercial machine—a machine which we are often complicit in with or without our awareness?

These questions are uncomfortable to sit with. And certainly that much more difficult to square with vulnerable people eager for employment and hoping to find dignity in their work. Imagine and dream with us about what a hopeful future could look like. Can you envision a world where more individuals could secure a job or pursue a career that excited them beyond a paycheck? A society where all workers felt assured that the money they brought home was “enough” to provide for the basics? What changes and priority shifting would it take for us to make strides toward an economy where all workers were encouraged to reach their full potential? Is this even a shared dream? Difficult questions to ponder. But they’re definitely on our mind this holiday season.

Encountering Homeless People: Holiday Edition

Holidays on the StreetWe recently published a post on Encountering Homeless People, but we want to provide a special holiday edition. The holiday season is a popular time for interest in offering assistance to people experiencing homelessness. It is also a season that is meaningful for many, but we don’t always share the same meaning, assumptions, and experiences. Keeping that in the forefront of our minds this holiday season is critical to how we approach anyone, but particularly how we approach those who are homeless.

Holidays can be a Triggering Time

We often try to push the feeling away, but the holidays can be a challenging time for many of us. And even if that is not your experience, perhaps you had a time when you faced a financial hardship, or you or a loved one received a diagnosis, or something just broke your heart, or you were sick and you didn’t feel like yourself. Now imagine if while you were experiencing that feeling that everyone around you was celebratory, and you felt pressured to mirror those feelings. The holidays are wonderful because they encourage us to experience love, hope, peace, joy, and a festive spirit. But sometimes that ideal can feel inauthentic. The incongruence of our actual experience versus that holiday ideal can produce feelings and reactions in all of us that can affect how we relate and behave.

Many of us feel that pressure, but it is particularly difficult for someone experiencing homelessness. While many of us can boil down our list of blessings to friends, family, good health, food, shelter and clothing—these are the very essentials that homeless people often lack. Holidays are also a time of memories, and for many homeless people those memories are not always positive. And for some, all of the baggage that is part of their experience can trigger behaviors that don’t reflect who they want to be or who they are during the rest of the year. Being mindful of all of these things is key to helping a person maintain their dignity and honoring their real, lived experience.

Unfortunately, we can’t offer a hard and fast rule that fits every situation, but taking a moment to pause to enter into another person’s experience will help any interaction be more welcome for everyone.

Keep Interactions Person-Centered

The pressure mentioned above can be used in ways that are either harmful or life-giving. We all hope that our interactions with others are in the latter category. But the hard part is just how difficult it is to determine whether we’re doing something hurtful or helpful. Best practice is to keep interactions person-centered. In addition to reflecting on what someone else could be experiencing, it also means asking key questions of yourself. Am I trying to focus on me or my needs or the person I want to help? Am I letting the other person define their needs or am I telling them what I think they need? Is trying to push for a holiday ideal getting in the way of having an equal, authentic experience with another person or do I see them as an opportunity to fill a void that I am experiencing? It’s so easy this time of year to fall into the trap of making someone your charity project, even when your intentions are good.

Putting focus on other people often means letting some of your power go. It’s hard to relinquish power because it insulates us from feeling pain. And certainly pain is not something we want to feel during a festive season! If you’re not sure what to do with that pit in your stomach, remember that all that pressure we feel is also a powerful force—a force we can use for good! Keep spending time listening to folks who are struggling and look for ways you can advocate for their needs and hopes.

Gift giving can have Unintended Consequences

While you may want to give a well-intentioned gift to a homeless person as part of your holiday celebration, be aware that it could have unintended consequences. For example, the recipient may not share your traditions, including religious background or gift-giving. But it can go well beyond that. Not only does stranger danger go both ways, but there is always a real possibility that your gift can make a person more rather than less vulnerable. Find out more by reading our Holiday FAQs.

‘Tis the Season to Be Scammed

We all deal with the holiday pressure differently, and for some it can present a ripe opportunity for scamming well-intentioned people. Don’t ever give up on being a force for good in the world—but do be mindful of scams during the holiday season.

If someone is collecting money on behalf of UMD or any other charity, it’s good practice to make sure you know the person or check out whether the collection is officially approved.

Also, if you live close to the downtown area, some individuals may claim that they need money for a hotel room because they don’t have money to stay at UMD or they can’t get a bed at our shelter. First, UMD is a public shelter and there is never a charge for access. And second, since October 1st, all referrals for shelter must go through DSS for Coordinated Entry or Entry Point Durham. Those are really just fancy terms to describe the process of designating one entry point for all people facing homelessness in a community entering through one official “door” agency to be triaged according to need, while ensuring them access to a range of services. So for scam cases like the one above, knowledge is power. If you have questions and need some more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

However you enter this holiday season, those of us at UMD are so thankful for you! The truth is we can’t do this work without the help and care of our community. When we all put in the work to deeply listen to one another and problem-solve together, we can make a powerful force for good in our community and our world!

Alternative Gift Giving Guide

Alternative Gift GivingTired of racking your brain each year trying to pick out gifts for your adult family members? Try some of these gifts that give back to UMD.

Gift collection rather than gift exchange

Instead of exchanging gifts with friends and family this year, collect items that will benefit folks experiencing homelessness. You can collect some of the “presents” we’re gifting to adults this year or help fill up the toy shop for UMD parents to “shop” for their children. While there is a deadline for the gifts, it’s always great for groups to collect homewares for move-outs kits, providing newly housed clients with items to pick out to supply their new home with basic necessities.

Donate Together

Pool your money and make a gift to UMD. Are you or one of your family members more interested in a gift that is more specific? Make your gift through our GoFundMe campaign to raise private Rapid Rehousing funds so that UMD staff can slash barriers for a person trying to get into housing.

Make a Memorial gift

The holidays are a sentimental time. Memorial gifts are a great way to still include a loved one who was once a part of your holiday celebrations. Make a gift here.

Patronize UMD supporters on Small Business Saturday

At UMD, we have an amazing community of supporters. On Small Business Saturday, take your business to a place that gives back to the local community. Check out the following:

Bulldega

Joe Van Gogh

Merge Records

9th Street Dance

Sacred Mandala

Vaguely Reminiscent (Dec. 2-13, 25% of clothing and shoe sales go to the non-profit of your choice)

Vert & Vogue

Visit a Holiday Fair

UMD will be represented at a number of local holiday fairs.

Dec 1st: Bright Spirits holiday market at Motorco, 12-6pm. A suggested donation of at least $5 gets you in the door. Entry donations directly support UMD.

You can also check out Advent Fairs at Immaculate Conception (before and after mass on December 7th and 8th) and First Presbyterian Church (after the 11am Sunday service on Dec. 8th), where you can purchase holiday cards supporting UMD.

Buy pottery or wooden crafts or take a class from the bowlmakers for our annual Empty Bowls Fundraiser

Chapel Hill Community Center Studio

Chapel Hill Woodturners (https://sites.google.com/site/chapelhillwoodturners/home)

Claymakers – close to MotorCo in Durham (https://www.claymakers.org/)

Durham Arts Council – located at Northgate Mall (http://www.durhamarts.org/classes_claystudio.html)

Sertoma Studio Potters (https://raleighnc.gov/places/sertoma-arts-center)

Woodturners Guild of NC

There are so many ways to give this season. Thank you for thinking outside the traditional holiday box to make a difference above and beyond annual giving.

How to Engage a Person Experiencing Homelessness

Engaging homeless***DISCLAIMER: The following tools for engagement are guidelines and suggestions based on the experiences of UMD employees interacting with the homeless population. By no means are these hard and fast rules; it is important to consider the context of each individual circumstance.

  1. In general, don’t engage someone by yourself.

This is the most important guideline. To ensure you are safe at all times, never engage with a homeless person by yourself. However, how you define “by yourself” can vary based on your comfort level. You might be comfortable engaging with someone as long as you are in a public place, or you might not feel comfortable unless you are with several people you know.

  1. Be informed.

Homelessness comes in all forms, shapes, and sizes. You may not realize that some people you encounter are homeless. Some people may work full time, have advanced degrees, and simply lack a home. Others may be scared, show distrust, exhibit symptoms of trauma, or they may be locked in a prolonged struggle with PTSD, substance abuse, or a mental health condition and may not be receiving the treatment they need. Read up on the different issues surrounding homelessness. Learn about resources you can direct people to in your area. Always be mindful and open to what someone else is experiencing.

  1. Be kind.

Acknowledge someone. Smile. Say good morning. Ask them how they’re doing.  However, do not expect or force someone to mirror your feelings, experience, or beliefs. Take your cues from them.

Speak respectfully. If you don’t feel comfortable engaging at the moment, whether that’s because you are alone or simply can’t be present, explain kindly that you can’t help at the moment or that you want to help but are running late for a meeting. Offering some context and kindness goes a long way.

  1. Gifts, not cash.

Cash is best when given directly to aid organizations. That said, there are ways you can engage with the homeless without giving cash. If panhandlers ask for cash, hand out water, hygiene kits (containing soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc.), granola bars, or $5 McDonald’s gift cards from your car window. Or if someone stops you on the street asking for money for something to eat, grab them something at the closest restaurant where you feel safe. If you are with others and feel comfortable, you can let someone join you inside a restaurant for something to eat. Additionally, you can also give them information about resources (such as food banks or shelters) nearby.

Homeless people are the ultimate survivors. And for many, surviving has come at a cost. Some have learned behavioral patterns of manipulation that they want to break away from and other may have an everyday fight against addiction. For these reasons, it’s best not to feed into someone else’s temptations.

  1. Respect boundaries.

Both yours and theirs.

Keep physical space between the two of you. You don’t know what kind of trauma a person may have faced or how they may react if you touch them. You also don’t want to give away too much personal information, especially about where you live. Finally, it’s always ok to say no or to disengage if someone tries to touch you or makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened.

Stranger danger goes both ways, so respect the other person’s space. Some homeless individuals may be leery of you due to fears about human trafficking or because of past trauma. Ask friendly questions and practice active listening skills, recognizing that the person you are interacting with is free to share their personal stories on their own terms and respond—or not respond—to you. If you are expecting gratitude for interacting with someone, you may want to think about why you wanted to engage with them in the first place.

  1. Stay safe. If need be, call for help.

If you feel unsafe or someone is at risk of hurting themselves or others, call for help.

If someone is agitated or having a mental health crisis, and you feel comfortable doing so, attempt to de-escalate the situation. Lower the volume of your voice. Fewer words are better. If you don’t feel comfortable, walk away and call for help. When calling the police, you can ask for a CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) officer, who is specially trained in de-escalating persons in crisis. Explain the situation carefully to avoid endangering yourself, the person, or others.

  1. Reflect.

Check your biases: Did someone act differently than you expected? Ask yourself what you were anticipating and why. Your expectations may be based on an assumption or belief that may be true to you but is not the experience of the other person. Did the person feel comfortable enough to share their story with you? What did you learn from them?

Think about the interaction: Is there something you could have done differently? Could you have given more of your time or shown more presence in the moments you spent with the person?

Engaging with people experiencing homelessness affirms the humanity of others and can teach us a great deal about who we are and the world we live in. We hope these practical suggestions will empower you to navigate such encounters with an open mind and heart.  

Housing Bond Passes, Now What?

It’s now time for heavy lifting (and listening) to make our community’s ideas become closer to a reality.

The vote is in. The Affordable Housing Bond has passed in Durham. Which only means one thing . . .

It’s officially time to roll up our sleeves.

It’s the public’s job to help make sure that the bond the community voted for lands on its feet. That includes making sure that when policy becomes a process with intended outcomes, that we remember the human face behind those efforts.

And of course, as you saw in our last post, the bond will have an impact, but there are still thousands in Durham in need of affordable housing above what can be provided in the next 5 years from the bond.

Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Watch (and listen) for right of return. A big concern is that those who currently have affordable housing and need to move temporarily while their home is being renovated or rebuilt, do not lose their housing.
  • Look for the City Council to establish a committee to help with transparency. According to Mayor Steve Schewel, “It is imperative and non-negotiable that there be a City Council-appointed accountability and advisory committee that works closely with DHA and the City’s staff during the entire five-year implementation period for the housing bond.”[1]
  • Offer someone else affordable housing. If you are a landlord, consider joining in the city’s efforts to make your properties affordable. If you aren’t, consider making the case to people you know about why affordable housing is important for everyone in the city. Or get inspired by one of your neighbors, Blake Townsend, who has invested in affordable housing for UMD clients.
  • Be mindful of those who are living the process of making the housing bond a reality. Not everyone is going to experience immediate joy on passage of the bond. While it can mean a long-term advantage for some, many of those in need of affordable housing have to live life in a short-term world. For them the bond means having to move (at least twice!) over the next 5 years, in addition to feeling mistrust and fear. It will be important to listen and hear different perspectives from our own, especially from those being directly affected.
  • Don’t stop giving. If you are currently giving to a public homeless service provider, please continue to do so. For the bond to have its best chance at injecting change into our system, current giving needs to stay constant. That means extra dollars leveraged by the bond can help enhance our current system rather than just maintain it.

And of course, stay tuned to the blog for updates on issues impacting those experiencing poverty and homelessness in our community.


[1] Steve Schewel, Interview, Durham For All, https://durhamforall.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Schewel-2019-D4A-mayor-questionnaire.pdf, pg. 2.

Affordable Housing: Living on the Edge in Durham

Thank you joining us again. This post is Part 2 in our series on the Durham Affordable Housing Bond. If you didn’t catch Part 1: The Facts, click here.

So what is affordable housing anyway?

There are two standards to measure affordable housing. 1) percentage of income below AMI (Annual Median Income) qualifies a household for assistance for affording a home 2) percentage of income going toward housing should be no more than 30% for housing to be considered affordable.

What is the annual median income in Durham?

The annual median income for an entire household (pre-tax) for the Durham-Chapel Hill Metropolitan Statistical Area is $80,600.[1] Income is best understood by considering the number of individuals within one household. Below you can see what the percentage AMI is for a variety of households and income levels and what type of assistance they are usually capable of receiving.

How many households need affordable housing according to the AMI criteria?

Income Level 1 person household 2 person household 3 person household 4 person household Assistance Eligibility (approx..)
30% AMI $17,850 $20,400 $22,950 $25,450 Public Housing
60% AMI $35,640 $40,740 $45,840 $50,880 Low End of Affordable Home Ownership Programs
80% AMI $47,500 $54,300 $61,110 $67,850 High End of Affordable Home Ownership Programs
2019 Area Median Income for Durham-Chapel Hill MSA*[2] $59,425 $67,925   $76,430 $84,815 Affordable Housing is Market Rate

“According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, nearly half of Durham households—53,525 to be exact—earn 80 percent of the AMI or less. (In 2018, that was about $72,000 for a family of three.) Eighteen thousand families earn less than 30 percent of the AMI, about $21,700.”[3]

How many households in Durham are in need of affordable housing using criteria 2?

Spending more than 30% of total income on housing is considered being cost-burdened by housing. According to the NC Housing Coalition, 31% of Durham County residents (39,582 households) are cost-burdened; 49% of renters (28,917 households) and 16% of homeowners (10,665 households) are cost-burdened.

How many new units will be provided through the bond/5-year plan?

New properties will add 863 affordable units, 405 market rate units will be added.[4] The number of spaces for public assistance cannot be decreased. The city estimates that 1,600 affordable units will be created and that 800 units will be preserved.

As you can see, the need for affordable housing is high in Durham. The bond and 5-year plan will have an impact, but we will still need to work hard as a community to make an affordable Durham a reality for all of us.


[1] NC Housing Coalition infographic. https://nchousing.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/NCH-CountyProfile-Durham.pdf

[2] Calculated by UMD using COD provided AMI levels of 30/60/80

[3] Sarah Willets, “What You Need to Know About the Largest Proposed Housing Bond Referendum in North Carolina History,” Indy Week, 2/26.

[4] Campaign website. https://www.durhamaffordablehousingbond.com/en/the-plan

Durham Affordable Housing Bond: The Facts

At UMD, we talk a lot about affordable housing. So, with a bond referendum on the ballot for November 5th, we realize we need to do our part by making sure that our donors, volunteers, and Durham neighbors can utilize us as a thought partner in that conversation. The purpose of this post is to round up and research information as we have it, and put it in your hands.

So, what are we voting on?

A 1.6 cent tax increase per $100 of assessed property value to fund a $95 million dollar affordable housing bond. Passage of the bond will leverage an additional $65 million of local and federal funds to create a $160 million 5-year plan (2020-2024) to combat Durham’s lack of affordable housing.

Who is paying?

The tax is directly aimed at property owners. Indirectly, it is possible that this fee or part of this fee may be passed on to renters when their landlords’ tax bill rises.

How much will the tax end up costing homeowners?

The average tax value of a home in Durham is $229,246 with a current property tax of $1,219. A 1.6 cent increase in property tax would add $37 to that tax bill.[1]

What will the bond pay for?

The city is presenting a wide-range of funding to address Durham’s affordable housing need. Take a look at this graphic we created using the line-item budgets and project descriptions from both the City of Durham’s website and the official Durham Affordable Housing Bond campaign site.

Homeless Programs will receive $10.5 million over 5 years. How does that affect UMD?

As you can see, much of this money is allocated to specific issues pertaining to homelessness, not all of which UMD will likely qualify for. When UMD applies for government grants, we usually qualify for “Emergency Shelter” and “Rapid Rehousing,” a line item which is set to receive $3.46 million. These terms often have specific funding designations for how and where funds can be used by an organization. Consider that it costs $3.8 million per year, including in-kind support, to operate UMD, and that multiple homeless service providers in Durham are likely to be eligible to receive portions of this funding. Activities listed under Homeless System Investments are important parts of the Durham Continuum of Care for the city’s homeless population, but they are not direct activities of UMD that would bring funding to our agency. UMD and others will need to apply for this funding in a competitive RFP (Request for Proposal) process.

The biggest chunk, $58.9 million, is for redeveloping Durham Housing Authority Projects, including the DHA Office. What are the four communities being redeveloped?

J.J. Henderson:  807 S. Duke Street (across from Durham Freeway and American Tobacco)

Forest Hills Heights: 700 S. Mangum Street (across from Durham Freeway and Durham Bulls Athletic Park)

Oldham Towers: 519 East Main Street (on block of E. Main and N. Dillard Street across from UMD)

Liberty Street: 131 Commerce Street (on block of Liberty Street and N. Dillard Street across from UMD and WTVD)

Durham has 14 DHA properties, why were these chosen and what’s the plan for the others?

These properties were chosen because “the downtown location will attract the financing necessary for the redevelopments to succeed.”[2] The goal is to “deconcentrate poverty by making these properties mixed income developments.”[3] Four other DHA properties were recently updated and the remaining six properties will be considered after the 5-year plan concludes.[4]

Stay tuned tomorrow to find out more about the affordable housing need in Durham and the expected impact on that need as outlined by the City of Durham.


[1] “One Page Informational Handout,”City of Durham Website, <https://durhamnc.gov/DocumentCenter/View/27969/One-Page-Informational-Handout>; “Facts and Figures Sheet” Durham Affordable Housing Bond Campaign website, <https://www.durhamaffordablehousingbond.com/en/overview>.

[2] FAQs, Campaign Website.

[3] The Plan, Campaign Website.

[4] FAQs, Campaign Website.