Eight Little Words

Posted on March 29, 2011

In many ways, this past Sunday was a day like any other. It may have been unusually cold and overcast for the end of March, but otherwise nothing very earth-shaking seemed to be going on.

And yet, page one of section E of the Sunday Times-Dispatch featured a positively radical heading consisting of four little words in pale gray lettering: “We Can End Homelessness.” And the article beneath it, entitled “Connect Passion and Solutions,” perfectly captures with four more little words the simple yet revolutionary strategy required for achieving this ambitious goal.

It’s simple, according to the commentary’s author Kelly King Horne, executive director of Homeward. We say we want to end homelessness in our community. And thanks to three decades of research, we actually know how to do it. So…what’s the hold-up? Why, as King Horne points out, has the total number of people experiencing homelessness on any given day in our region remained relatively unchanged since 2007?

Does our community lack passion for or commitment to this issue? Quite the contrary. Just a few months ago, Governor McDonnell took the issue head-on when he assigned his own Senior Economic Advisor Bob Sledd to the statewide task force charged with generating an action plan. Richmond also has its own ten-year plan for ending homelessness, and the recommendations in both documents are clearly spelled out. Meanwhile, hundreds of community volunteers regularly demonstrate their deep commitment to the issue by supporting organizations in the regional homeless service providers system as well as city-wide events like Affordable Housing Awareness Week and  Project Homeless Connect.

Didn’t somebody famous once say, “If we don’t know where we want to go, it’s unlikely we will get there”? This is the point King Horne makes when she asks, “What do we mean when we talk about ending homelessness?” How do we define it? How do we measure it? What does it look like? How do we wrap our arms and our brains around something we have been struggling unsuccessfully with for decades?

Once we stop – really stop – thinking about the problem in terms of temporary fixes and start thinking about it in terms of permanent solutions, the answer becomes simple. Get families and individuals out of emergency shelters. Stabilize them with permanent housing as quickly as possible. Connect them to services. Problem solved.

Can it really be that straightforward? We at Virginia Supportive Housing know it can, because that’s what we do every day.  For over 20 years, we’ve been providing permanent housing and support services for homeless individuals and families. And with a 98% success rate, we know our integrated approach to ending homelessness really works. We can prove it.

So now what? King Horne’s inspiring commentary says it all. Connect passion to solutions. Learn more. Read Governor McDonnell’s task force recommendations. Read Richmond’s ten-year plan. Find out what other communities are doing. Then connect. Follow VSH on Facebook. Subscribe to our newsletter. Attend a presentation. Roll up your sleeves. Join our volunteer program. Be a part of our proven permanent solutions.

Once we know where we’re going, it’s likely that we really will get there. We CAN end homelessness!

Be Sure To Watch The APTS Documentary On March 24!

Posted on March 22, 2011

Don’t forget to watch the upcoming PBS documentary featuring VSH and A Place To Start! Virginia Currents is an award-winning PBS news magazine that celebrates remarkable people & places in the Commonwealth. Tune in to WCVE Channel 23 on Thursday, March 24, at 8:00 p.m. for a special Virginia Currents documentary highlighting the successes of VSH’s three-year-old program A Place to Start (APTS).

A Place To Start is an innovative regional program that serves individuals experiencing chronic homelessness and serious mental illness. On January 26, VSH was proud to release a report documenting the outcomes of this highly effective program over a 20-month period. This report demonstrated a 98% success rate in keeping clients in housing and a total savings to the community of more than $320,000!

To read VSH Executive Director Alice Tousignant’s recent blog on this program, click here. To read the RTD article on this program, click here. To support VSH’s proven permanent solutions to homelessness, click here!

Think Homelessness Can't Happen To You?

Posted on March 15, 2011

Think homelessness can’t happen to you? That’s what Susan Schneider of Alexandria, Virginia thought….until it happened to her. 

In 2008, Schneider, the former owner of a mortgage business, was evicted from her home after a precipitous downward spiral triggered by the real estate bust. All the comforts of her middle class lifestyle – a new Honda Accord, nice restaurant dinners, and expensive salon hair treatments – disappeared in a blink.

Read her story, and an exploration of this common myth concerning homelessness, in the March 13 entry of 100,000 Homes’ weekly blog.

At Virginia Supportive Housing, we know that homelessness is a problem that can affect anyone. And it does affect the lives of more than 8,800 Virginians every day. To find out more about the state of homelessness in Virginia, and read Governor McDonnell’s recommendations, click here.  To find out more about how you can be a part of our proven, permanent solutions to homelessness, click here.

Rebuilding Lives and Realizing Potential

Posted on March 8, 2011

This week’s blog was written by VSH’s spring PR intern, Jonathan Glomb.

As an adolescent growing up in an upper- middle class neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, I was fortunate to have a prim and proper life free of adversities. My biggest hardship probably consisted of parents who worked too much. I went to a good high school with well-to do teachers that were very good at teaching what we needed to learn in order to pass the standards of learning exams. In general, I did not like high school course work, except for one class in particular, photography. Sure, part of the attraction had to do with using creative expression to escape the confines of suburbia and the monotony of high school life. In reality it was not what was being taught so much that motivated me, but rather who was teaching it.

Mr. B was seemingly an average middle-aged white man with dirty blonde, curly hair and a “soul patch”.  He was relaxed, composed and never raised his voice to the class because he never needed to. To me, he was initially just a laid-back teacher whose class would provide an easy “A” and a sound environment for socializing. Mr. B was straightforward and did not sugar coat things like other teachers. He spoke to us about real life issues in a manner that transcended public education and pierced the realm of true understanding. I soon realized that he was a valuable person to have as a mentor and would be very influential on my life.

One day in casual conversation, he rocked my suburban world when he told me that he had been homeless for a period of his life. He lived in his van on the side of the road for a period of eight months or more.  I didn’t know what was more shocking – the fact that my teacher had been homeless or that he had just divulged information to me that was so personal. I wondered how this was possible. How did a person that I admire once find himself living in such desperate conditions?  With my experience as an intern at Virginia Supportive Housing, I have learned that homelessness has no boundaries and can happen to anyone, so now this does not come as a surprise.

Mr. B’s life on the street, like that of so many other homeless people across the country, was due to a combination of things. He had no money, no job, and nowhere to go, thus leaving him with no choice but to do what he needed to do to get by. No one could have known that, years later, our paths would intersect in a classroom where he would share his story of determination and hard work. But I have never forgotten it and never will.

Since I began working with Virginia Supportive Housing, I have frequently thought back to my teacher’s story and the impact of his presence in my life. Once I thought stories like his were uncommon, but I am starting to realize just how common his account actually is. The truth is that there are many smart and talented people with much to give out on the streets. My teacher’s example has shown me that, with the proper support network, people can and do persevere through the hardest of times, and very often they go on to influence others in extraordinary and valuable ways. My encounter with Mr. B made me a different person, a better person. This is why what VSH does is so significant. It’s about rebuilding lives, realizing potential, and reminding one another every day that every life matters.

From Homelessness to Happiness

Posted on March 1, 2011

Meet Myra Bellamy. Myra, who is 48 years old, moved into South Richmond in November of 2010. A few short weeks later, she found herself face-to-face with Mayor Dwight Jones, sharing her experiences at VSH’s most recent ground-breaking ceremony on December 7. This is her story.

Myra lost her job in 2008 when the company that employed her went through a massive layoff after being bought out. She had ample skills to work in any factory or physical maintenance job and was eager to work, yet the only jobs she could find were temporary, leaving her unable to support herself.  In today’s economy it is hard enough under the best of circumstances to find a job, but Myra was at an even greater disadvantage due to a seven-year-old criminal conviction. She recognizes that her past created an obstacle for her to find work and she takes ownership for that mistake, which eventually led to her homelessness.  “I guess you could say the pivotal point that caused me to reach homelessness was no money, no income, nowhere to live…That’s rock bottom,” she reflected. “When you don’t have those three things, you are at the end of your rope.”

Myra has never struggled with drug or alcohol addiction. “It wasn’t about that. It was about me getting myself together.”  With no source of income and no place to live, she alternated for a while between staying with friends and staying with her adult children. As her job layoff turned into protracted unemployment, she finally sought out emergency shelter, where one month turned into two and then three months turned into six.

From 6 am until 6 pm, she looked for work, wandered the streets, and endured the weather while waiting for the shelter to open. She was fortunate not to have health problems while on the street, but her basic obstacle to housing stability remained the same. She needed a job. Myra constantly struggled to overcome discouragement and stay positive, forcing herself to continue searching for openings every day, patiently submitting her resume at every opportunity and asking if businesses were hiring.

Finally, a call came from her case manager. She had qualified for VSH services and was on a waiting list for a unit at South Richmond. After a few more months, she was notified that a unit was available and she joyfully moved in.  Soon after that, she completed an interview with a construction site supervisor not 100 yards from the residence.  Out of 8 people that were trying to get the job, Myra got it.

Tears stream from her eyes as she attempts to express her sense of gratitude. With a clean, safe, and supportive environment to live in and a job not a stone’s throw away, she feels blessed and cherishes life more than ever. She also knows that she can be an example of success for the disheartened. “By being homeless I found my reason that I am here, I was put here to help other people.”

As she puts her hard hat on and prepares for another day of work, a smile lights up her face. “The best thing to say is I’m happy, I’m at peace.  [VSH] took a chance on me and I hope I can give back to them…by helping other people. This is my story. I went from Homelessness to Happiness.”