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Homeless try to stay hopeful during down economy

Homeless shelters in Wake County say people in need of a place to sleep are up due to the down economy.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Homeless shelters in Wake County say people in need of a place to sleep are up due to the down economy. Some of those people have worked good jobs in the past, like Kenny Eckert.

"It has been really hard,” Eckert said of living on the streets.

Eckert, who has been homeless for seven years, spends his days watching construction along Hillsborough Street.

"Some people just look at me like, you can get a job.” Eckert said.

Eckert said an injury from a vehicle accident has made it difficult to find employment.

Now with the economy struggling, Eckert said the numbers of people joining him on the streets is growing.

"Most people are having a hard time getting on their feet,” Eckert said.

Nearly 3,300 people are homeless in Wake County over the course of a year, according to the most recent community assessment.

The report, complied in 2006, found that 35 percent of homeless people in have a serious mental illnesses and 66 percent have substance abuse problems.

Thirteen percent of the county's homeless population are also chronically homeless, which is higher than the national average.

"The only thing I could do was go to a homeless shelter,” Diane Zakariassen said.

Zakariassen, who is college educated, has been out of work for two months. She was evicted from her apartment when she couldn't pay the rent.

"I was like, in shock ... it wasn't reality,” Zakariassen said. "It happens to everybody. It happens to people who are educated, who had a good job."

Zakariassen now stays at the Helen Wright Center for Women shelter, which has a waiting list.

The Salvation Army of Wake County Women and Children's Emergency Shelter currently has 80 on its waiting list.

Reggie Lee, a former Marine and landscaper, said he wants a new job so he can provide a home for his 8-year-old son.

"I cry about it sometimes, but you can't let it get you down,” Lee said. "I am not going to give up."

The county is due to release a new community assessment, with more recent homeless statistics, next year.



Adam Owens, Reporter
Robert Meikle, Photographer

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