CASA turns to community to serve homeless

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Growing up in Duplin County in rural eastern North Carolina, Debra King learned about the “interdependency of people in a small farming community.”

For the past 19 years, King has tried to put that lesson to work as CEO of CASA, a Raleigh-based nonprofit that develops and manages over 300 units of affordable housing at 37 properties in Wake, Durham and Orange counties for people with disabilities or who are homeless, many of them veterans.

Formed in 1992 by the Wake County Area Mental Health Program, an agency that worked to ensure that indigent people received proper care for mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities, CASA now operates with an annual budget of $3 million and staff of 26 people.

Its staff includes 10 part-time employees who are residents of its housing and serve as the landscaping crew for its properties.

The agency has a separate budget of roughly $2.5 million a year, mostly from public funding, to develop new housing.

This year, it is developing 10 single-bedroom units on Sunnybrook Road in Raleigh, where it already has 10 units.

It also has begun construction on 11 single-bedroom units at the intersection of Sedgefield and Guess roads near Northgate Mall in Durham in the first phase of a complex that will house homeless veterans and include indoor community space, a laundry room and outside sitting area.

The Durham complex will be named for Alexander B. Denson, a retired magistrate judge from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Denson, who in the 1990s served as the third chair of CASA’s board of directors, helped spearhead efforts to develop a shelter in downtown Raleigh that could house homeless people on cold nights.

The Denson Apartments for Veterans will cost $1.4 million, most of it public funding but also including $75,000 from the Home Depot Foundation because it will house veterans, and $46,500  from a foundation that wishes to remain anonymous and supports “green,” or environmentally-friendly buildings.

CASA also is seeking $27,000 in private donations to cover landscaping costs, as well as furniture and equipment for the community room.

Missy Hatley, former director of annual fund and communications at Habitat for Humanity of Wake County, joined CASA in January as its first full-time director of development, and has a goal of raising $85,000 in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

In November and December, CASA held its first fundraising appeal to individuals, and plans another in April.

With a waiting list of over 500 people, King says, CASA aims to engage individual donors in helping to make sure homeless people have a safe place they can call home.

“If we could replicate that in our more urban environments, that sense of community and responsibility for one another,” King says of the interdependence among people she saw as a child raised on a farm, “we’d solve so many of our issues.”

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