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Full-time social worker patrols downtown Raleigh to help those in need

With foot traffic in downtown Raleigh increasing and a sense of safety decreasing, the Downtown Raleigh Alliance has hired three more Downtown Ambassadors to create a sense of safety in downtown.

Posted Updated

Joe Fisher
, WRAL reporter

A full-time social worker is now on patrol in downtown Raleigh - working to connect the homeless and other people in need with resources faster than ever before.

She's one of several Downtown Ambassadors.

For nearly 20 years, ambassadors have greeted and guided downtown residents and visitors. But for the first time, a social worker has been added to the ranks.

Darlene McClain has been on the job just one week - but her impact is already visible.

“You never know if you’re the one who is going to need help and I am in a position now when I can," said McLain, a Social Services Outreach Ambassador.

Even during her interview with WRAL, she stopped to help a man who was collecting change for a bus ticket to Cumberland County.

“He said he was hungry, he’s tired. He’s anxious. He’s worried. I provided him a place where he can get something to eat real quick on his way to travel,” she said.

Whether it’s pointing people to a food bank, shelter, job training, or addiction services, McClain says her goal is to provide hope.

“I want downtown to be more of a fun atmosphere, not a place where people have to mope around and be worried about what their next step is and what they’re going to do," she said.

Bill King is with the Downtown Raleigh Alliance that’s hired three more ambassadors to increase security around Fayetteville Street, where protests turned to riots this summer.

“What we’re really looking to do is move the needle," he said. “They do create a sense of peace of mind. There is somebody there who can come and they can deescalate a situation if need be.”

Despite the economic and political turbulence that’s affected the area, King said downtown’s rebound is underway.

“I think we’re feeling a sense of getting back on our feet, which is a good thing," he said.

Foot traffic downtown increased more than 30 percent from July to August.

The Downtown Raleigh Alliance said a recent survey shows 80 percent of downtown residents feel safe, but King said that is down a few percentage points from last year’s survey. ​

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