DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — There’s nothing a parent wants more than to provide their child the best.
“It’s an emotional rollercoaster when you have nowhere to go and maybe no support sometimes,” said Karissa Judy.
Judy said she was struggling financially and facing a battle with substance abuse while trying to raise her six-year-old daughter Charlie.
“We were living with family members, but even that wasn’t the healthiest environment,” she said.
The South Carolina mother said she reached out to several shelters hoping to find the support she needed for her and her daughter; however, over and over again Judy was told shelters were full or had a waiting list.
It wasn’t until about four months ago that Judy felt a glimpse of hope when she found the Durham Rescue Mission.
Durham Rescue Mission Vice President of Development, Ernie Mills Jr., said Judy is one of several mothers in a similar situation at the shelter.
“The population of children has exploded here,” Mills said.
According to Mills, the shelter is not an orphanage by any means, but staff have had to make adjustments to fulfill a need they’re seeing in their community. Not only has the shelter increased support in their daycare facility — they even recently hired a tutor — but Mills also said they’re also working to expand the daycare space and increase the number of rooms at the women’s housing facility.
“What we want to do is provide a place where a mother can come and she can shed the worries of life,” said Mills. “She doesn’t have to worry about ‘How am I going to feed my child tonight?’”
According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, most individuals who experience homelessness are single men and women. However, North Carolina saw a 300% increase in the number of children who were homeless from 2020 to 2022.
Staff at the Durham Rescue Mission said they averaged about 13 children at the shelter in 2021, but less than two weeks ago they saw that number spike to 54.
“I would say it’s a combination of things,” said Mills while explaining the various reasons families may be struggling right now. He said high rent and limited housing continue to be challenging for families living in the Triangle as well as inflation, rises in opioid use, and the many struggles families are still facing since the pandemic started.
Mills said the impacts of homelessness can be difficult for a child, especially while many of them continue to go to school.
“I know when they come here many of the children have a lot of insecurities,” he said. “We had one child who was so insecure about food that in order to sleep the child have to have food in their hand.”
He added, “I do know that children are resilient.”
Mills said in addition to providing families with daycare, the Durham Rescue Mission also provides counseling, job skill training and an opportunity to heal.
“They’re able to rebuild their lives so they’re able to here as a fully functioning member of society—and that’s a beautiful thing,” Mills said.
“We’re stretched, but we’re happy to do it because I don’t want to turn anybody away,” he added. “I don’t have the heart to tell you we’ll put you on a waiting list when you’re in dire need.”
For Judy and her daughter Charlie, a nearly four-hour drive from South Carolina to the shelter was a chance for a new beginning.
“You create bonds here,” Judy said. “You almost create your own family here.”
Judy hopes her experience at the shelter will help bring her and her daughter closer together while also gaining the stability. She hopes it will lead to a home, a job, and what she’s always wanted to provide for Charlie — the best.