Homelessness: It can happen to anyone | News Feature | Indy Week

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Homelessness: It can happen to anyone

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Click for larger image • Outside Cosmic Cantina (above) or on the steps of Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church resides one of Ninth Street's fixtures, Mike Byrd. Unlike some panhandlers, Byrd, a 55-year-old diabetic, uses the money for his stated purpose: food and shelter. He says he doesn't smoke cigarettes or drink.
  • Click for larger image • Outside Cosmic Cantina (above) or on the steps of Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church resides one of Ninth Street's fixtures, Mike Byrd. Unlike some panhandlers, Byrd, a 55-year-old diabetic, uses the money for his stated purpose: food and shelter. He says he doesn't smoke cigarettes or drink.

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Medical bills, divorce, job loss, foreclosure: There are many reasons why people become homeless. According to Urban Ministries, a faith-based agency providing food, clothing, shelter and counseling, about 2,500 people spend at least one night in Durham shelters each year. Homelessness touches the working poor, even the middle class.

While there are many private and government affordable housing resources, they cannot keep up with the demand. For example, the Durham Housing Authority has closed the waiting list for Section 8, a federal subsidy for low-income people renting private apartments or houses; 1,800 people are on the list.

Those who qualify for Section 8 cannot afford the average two-bedroom apartment, which runs about $785 a month, according to the Durham Affordable Housing Coalition. Federal guidelines state that a household should spend no more than 30 percent of its income on rent. By those calculations, a person earning minimum wage should spend no more than $315 a month for housing.

If there's a message in these photographs, it's that no one is immune to homelessness. To lose your home doesn't mean you should lose your humanity and dignity.

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