In early January 2019 the Durham Housing Authority evacuated 280 households from the McDougald Terrace public housing complex because of unsafe conditions, including elevated levels of carbon monoxide in some of the apartments.
The displacement disrupted families’ routines, separated them from neighbors and community friends, and left many with no kitchens or appliances to cook food in their temporary hotel quarters. Many had to move out so quickly they did not have time to pack adequate belongings. Such a situation can create feelings of fear, anger, frustration and sadness. One resident told reporters the displacement was “stressful and depressing.”
From the outset of the crisis, Alliance staff worked with Durham city and county governments and the housing authority to put together a coordinated mental and physical health response to support residents during the intensely stressful time.
“We are responding like we do with any acute, traumatic event to make sure people are engaged in services, connected with their providers and receiving supports,” said Alliance Senior Vice President–Community Health and Well-Being Ann Oshel. “We are trying to help mitigate some of the long-term effects of trauma, just making sure people know how to access help when they need it.”
Immediately following the evacuations, Alliance staffers met with residents at the complex and at hotels to identify unmet needs and help people access needed services. Alliance staff also participated in all forums and events the housing authority organized for residents.
In addition, Alliance collaborated with Duke Health, Lincoln Community Health and Daymark/Freedom House to set up a mobile clinic for displaced residents. The partners borrowed Durham’s “City Hall on the Go” RV to visit the hotels hosting residents to provide a confidential space to discuss their health and well-being concerns.
“Recruiting our partners to launch a mobile clinic as part of a crisis response was a logical and important step to take,” Oshel said. “We are trying to make a health and well-being response as mobile as possible instead of saying ‘here’s an appointment’ and making people come to us.”
The situation has been especially difficult for children, who have limited space and opportunity to play or see friends in the hotels. The Alliance CARES volunteers stepped up to help staff “MLK Play Days” organized by the housing authority for children and youth at area recreation centers. Altogether more than 50 Alliance staff members volunteered as part of our response.
In speaking of Alliance’s approach to the coming days and weeks, Alliance CEO Rob Robinson promised city and county leaders that the community “can count on Alliance Health to be there for the long haul to support the residents of McDougald Terrace as they begin the journey of rebuilding their homes and lives.”