Maggie West: From crisis to community

August 9, 2013 

Maggie West

One week ago the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) and a coalition of nonprofits serving homeless and near-homeless families put out a call to Chapel Hill’s faith communities.

The message: Housing crisis in Chapel Hill, your help needed. After recent floods and rampant rent increases in Chapel Hill, our local workforce and vulnerable families are completely without affordable rental options.

The call to action: Households or property managers willing to rent any available housing to displaced individuals.

In a matter of days, six families have responded to this call offering to rent guesthouses, townhouses, spare bedrooms – anything they have to offer. Families have offered housing options from market-rate to rent-free, from one month to one year. Almost every one of the families has expressed to me their nervousness at taking on something as new as this, and yet, they have not let this impede their willingness to act.

These families are taking a true leap of faith, and responding to a crisis in a manner that builds a truly connected community. I am totally humbled by their openness, and felt the need to thank them for their generosity of spirit.

Now, we certainly still have a housing crisis on our hands. The personal generosity expressed by these six families is significant, and I believe symbolic of community good will toward solving our crisis. But nonetheless, every single day at least one new member walks into CEF seeking help with the near-impossible task of finding housing their family can afford in Chapel Hill – the town where they and their children already work, receive medical services or attend school.

Being personally displaced myself right now by recent storms and resulting water damage to my apartment, I’m keenly aware of the importance of short-term, transitional options as well as long-term housing stability for ALL our neighbors.

And everyday at CEF, I am reminded of the lifelong consequences the lack of housing causes in our community…

On Monday: A single mother with four children who faces homelessness immediately because of a 30-day transition period between the end of her current lease and the beginning of her new lease.

On Tuesday: A landscaper being evicted from his apartment one week before his appointment for a double-bypass heart surgery, health conditions having made him unable to work for the past two months.

On Wednesday: A young woman in financial crisis struggling to manage student loan payments and a new part-time job, and striving to make a successful transition out of homelessness and into a career.

And that’s just halfway through the week.

So from the bottom of my heart, to the friends who have housed me since I’ve been displaced, and to CEF’s new friends who have offered their own homes and rentals to house my neighbors, I say “Thank you.”

Thank you for renewing my faith in what’s possible here in Chapel Hill, and for making it possible for the people I love and who are the heart of our community to continue to call this town home.

If you are as inspired as I have been by these families, who are truly opening new doors, I hope you will reach out. What’s that beautiful quote by Margaret Mead? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Join in, any way you can. Let’s fix this together.

Maggie West is program coordinator of the Community Empowerment Fund. To join the coalition, contact her at, 919-200-0233 or see

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