In the early 1980s, Durham, like many American cities, witnessed a spike in the amount of homeless and impoverished people downtown. A group of faith and civic leaders responded to this crisis by establishing a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Urban Ministries Center, in 1983. They constructed a building at Liberty and Queen streets and leased portions of the space to other anti-poverty nonprofits, including St. Philip’s Community Kitchen, which provided free meals, and the United Methodist Mission Society, which distributed donated groceries and clothing to those in need. Next door to the building, the Community Shelter for HOPE independently provided an overnight shelter for people experiencing homelessness. In 2003, these organizations merged to form Urban Ministries of Durham (UMD), and were converted into a Community Café, Food Pantry and Clothing Closet, and Community Shelter, providing coordinated service delivery on a campus occupying half a city block.
UMD fights poverty by offering food, shelter and a future to those living on the margins or who have fallen on hard times. While UMD provides emergency shelter, the nonprofit’s primary goal is to work with individuals to help them end their homelessness. Neighbors confronting homelessness in Durham must first go to the Dept. of Social Services for coordinated entry and diversion. If they cannot be diverted to alternative solutions, they are referred to UMD for emergency shelter. There, they are assigned a case manager who helps them develop a personalized plan for obtaining permanent housing and a steady income to remain stably housed. These efforts are supported by a workforce development team that offers clients assistance with job hunting, soft skills training and financial literacy, among other benefits. UMD offers additional support to its residents and community clients (the working poor, unsheltered homeless and others) through its Café, which serves three free meals a day, as well as its Food Pantry and Clothing Closet. All community services depend heavily on in-kind donations and volunteers.
The COVID-19 outbreak has presented a new set of challenges for UMD. Services in the Food Pantry and Clothing Closet have been temporarily suspended, and shelter residents and staff have been relocated to a hotel so clients can adhere to social distancing. UMD has also shifted its typical dine-in meal service to a “to-go” service. This has significantly increased expenses for items like to-go trays and bottled water at a time when feeding neighbors who have limited access to resources, have lost jobs, or are working essential jobs on the frontlines of the pandemic (warehouse employees, delivery drivers, janitors etc.) is of the utmost importance.
Shelter residents are scheduled to return to UMD in early July, which will require further adjustments, and plans are underway to reopen the Food Pantry, Clothing Closet and Café with modifications as soon as possible. However, UMD is accustomed to serving a fluid population, which makes their staff well-versed in needing to make changes and adjustments on the fly. They have a strong team where everyone is committed to doing whatever is necessary to help the clients. There is no shyness in needing to “step up” or hubris in needing to take on a different task, whether that is sanitizing a room or cooking a batch of oatmeal.
UMD has a long-standing partnership with DUSON. The ABSN students in clinical placement have held regular pop-up health screenings for clients on the UMD campus for a number of years.DUSON has provided teach-in sessions on issues ranging from hand hygiene to heart health.
On average, 1 in 4 UMD residents struggle with a physical disability, and at least 10 percent have a diagnosed chronic health condition. Access to free health care such as the services provided by DUSON is integral to keeping the homeless population as healthy as possible and increases their chances of making a positive transition to permanent housing with hope for a better future.
UMD also has a very supportive community. While volunteer activities have been limited due to social distancing and the statewide stay-at-home order, the nonprofit’s community has stepped up to help provide what is needed to keep their clients safe and healthy. A steady flow of needed supplies have arrived via UMD’s Amazon Wishlist, though that activity has slowed over the last month, and individual donors and funding partners have maintained or increased their giving to UMD's general operations budget. To donate to UMD, visit the Donation page on their website.