A Paradigm Shift For The State Of Virginia

Posted on January 4, 2011

An amazing thing happened at the 2010 Governor’s Housing Conference in November.  Governor McDonnell and his senior economic advisor, Bob Sledd, announced an overall goal to reduce homelessness in the State by at least 15% by 2013, from 8,883 to 7,550.  Why is this so remarkable? Because the Commonwealth of Virginia has actually never established a goal to reduce homelessness before!

Bob Sledd chaired the Homeless Outcomes Advisory Committee that helped to create these objectives and craft this bold initiative. The Committee was comprised of Cabinet level State agency representatives as well as numerous providers. I was lucky enough to be a part of this group, which also sought input from stakeholders throughout the state.

Not only is there an overall goal, but there are specific objectives and strategies that were developed to help meet this goal.  The most ambitious objectives call for a 15% increase in the number of permanent supportive housing units for fiscal year 2012 and 20% for 2013 above the current inventory.  This is an acknowledgement of the importance and success of permanent supportive housing in solving the problem of homelessness for a large segment of the homeless population.

Another specific objective, related to homeless prevention and rapid rehousing, sets a target increase of 10% in the number of individuals and families placed in permanent housing. The fact that we are going to concentrate on prevention and permanent housing as opposed to emergency and short term shelter solutions is extremely exciting and novel. It’s a true paradigm shift for the State of Virginia. Instead of paying to keep our emergency shelter beds occupied, we will be paying to empty them out and keep them empty!

This is a very exciting time for the Commonwealth of Virginia. While there is no additional funding to accomplish this effort, new and existing resources will be prioritized in order to ensure that these objectives are accomplished. With Bob Sledd as the champion leading the charge, I have no doubt that we will accomplish this goal.

As we begin 2011, I am optimistic that the State will do everything in its power to shift its efforts from managing homelessness to preventing and ending it.  VSH is very happy to participate and help lead this effort. To support our proven permanent solutions in the new year, click here.

Sixteen percent fewer people in Richmond homeless, but the battle is not over…

Posted on September 7, 2010

I have asked Koury Wilson, one of VSH’s fall communications internship candidates, to write this week’s blog. Thanks, Alice

I awoke one morning to News 8 airing recent statistics stating that the number of individuals living on the streets in Richmond has decreased by 16 percent despite the dismal economy.

As a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, it’s not unusual to see many homeless men and women on campus, particularly in Monroe Park.  In many ways, the sight has become synonymous with the VCU experience itself.  It’s also not unusual to hear insensitive comments from students about the prevalence of “the homeless,” but the reality is that these people are struggling to survive and there are many more on the verge of losing their homes.

According to The United Way, “Even though the number of homeless is down, the need in the community for social services and assistance has increased.” So clearly, the battle is not over and we still have a long way to go. With Richmond’s financial crisis and a change of legislature, the state government has made budget cuts to many local agencies and services which cater to these needs.  While 2010 statistics show improvement, with less money for social programs, it’s uncertain how long the city will maintain this decline.  Chances are…not too long.

Virginia Supportive Housing is the only not-for-profit organization in Central Virginia that takes an integrated approach to ending homelessness…and it’s an approach that works. But the current need far exceeds current resources.

Maybe you’re like me and you don’t have the means to financially help every person you come across. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help. I can’t stress enough the importance of two “Vs”: Volunteerism and Voting.

Support VSH with the gift of your time! This non-profit has many meaningful opportunities available, ranging from beautifying its supportive properties, to engaging with clients, to influencing how the message is spread. When you volunteer, you’re not only making a difference in the lives of other people in need, but you’re also benefiting from the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that giving back provides. It’s a win-win.

However, getting involved doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be physically present.  While your involvement is strongly encouraged, donations can make a world of difference to the organization…and a life.  Your donations can help support current services and also assist in developing new services so that more individuals and families can get off the streets.

Homelessness can occur to anyone.  Whether you’re facing the threat of homelessness yourself or are simply interested in learning more about the issue, please register and take part the mid-term elections occurring on Nov. 2.  This is a problem that transcends party lines; all of our elected officials will have a say in how the state budget is distributed and what services need the most attention.  Virginia Supportive Housing counts on the state legislature to help move its mission forward by providing adequate funding.  By exercising your civic duty, you can directly contribute to VSH’s mission to reduce homelessness in Virginia.  So please participate in our democratic system this fall and contribute your time, talents, voice, and resources to put an end to homelessness in our commonwealth. Your support WILL make a difference!

A Once-In-The-State Opportunity

Posted on July 6, 2010

As I sit here wearing my red, white and blue outfit in honor of the holiday that just passed celebrating our nation’s freedom, I find myself thinking about our nation more as the land of opportunity and having similar thoughts about our beautiful Commonwealth of Virginia.

Virginia has so much going for it: natural beauty; wonderful art and history; a diverse & thriving economy in many places; higher than average median income; and unemployment at about the national average.  Virginia also has about 40,000 people each year who experience homelessness.  But we have a tremendous opportunity in Virginia to finally do something about this problem, thanks to Governor McDonnell and his Senior Economic Advisor, Bob Sledd.

In April, the Governor issued an Executive Order to develop a Housing Policy Framework for the Commonwealth that included guiding principles, one of which was to “address the needs of homeless Virginians by focusing on the reduction of chronic homelessness, ensuring the continuing … safety net of shelters and services, and investing in transitional and permanent supportive housing.” 

To that end, the Governor appointed an Advisory Group of State agency representatives across several secretariats as well as private agency representatives from across the state that is charged with developing recommendations to help prevent and reduce homelessness in the Commonwealth.  I am honored to be part of this Advisory Group lead by Bob Sledd and especially heartened by the caliber of people at the table, to include Secretary Bill Hazel, Commissioner Jim Stewart and DHCD Director, Bill Shelton. 

The group’s charge is to develop a plan to leverage state resources more effectively, maximize the effectiveness of State services and resources for people who are homeless, realize efficiencies through enhanced coordination, and reduce the number of individuals who are homeless.  And, these guys mean business—we only have until October to deliver these recommendations, which must be realistic, doable, and specific!

There is also an opportunity to get input from providers and anyone in the public who would like to weigh in on best practice solutions and ideas for removal of any barriers to effective coordination and use of resources through four input sessions in different parts of the State that will be held during the next 30 days.

This is a great opportunity to make a real difference in Virginia.  This is our chance to help improve coordination, identify more efficient use of resources, impact the allocation of resources and funding priorities, influence State policy and most importantly help prevent and reduce homelessness in the Commonwealth.

What are YOUR thoughts on the issue of homelessness in Virginia and what our state needs to do to end it? Please take the opportunity to comment directly to this blog or to attend one of the input sessions.  I promise to listen to your input and to do my best to make sure this opportunity does not go by the wayside.

Partners In The Fight To End Homelessness

Posted on May 25, 2010

The collaborative efforts of Virginia Supportive Housing and the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness provide a perfect illustration of how agencies that are focused on the same issue can align strategies and complement each other’s strengths to bring about real change.

The mission of the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness is to prevent and end homelessness in the Commonwealth of Virginia through community collaboration, capacity building, education and advocacy. Although it is not a direct service provider, its work in the areas of statewide research, data collection, policy development, and resource mobilization is critical to the work of Virginia Supportive Housing.

Virginia Supportive Housing’s mission is to provide permanent solutions to homelessness using an integrated approach that combines permanent housing and support services. As a direct service provider, VSH has a “ground-level” perspective of the problem of homelessness which might seem at odds with VCEH’s more abstract perspective. However, neither agency could achieve its mission in the community without the other, and together the two agencies have helped to transform the state’s response to homelessness in many ways.

One of VCEH’s top priorities for 2010 is to increase investment in permanent supportive housing for homeless people with disabilities, ex-offenders, and veterans by conducting a needs assessment and developing an action plan. This priority reflects not just a regional trend (as articulated in Richmond’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness), but also a nationwide shift in focus toward the integrated model utilized with such success by VSH.

By quantifying VSH’s successes in the form of measurable data, VCEH can make pragmatic recommendations borne out by practice. And by implementing evidence-based practices supported by research, VSH can strengthen the case for permanent supportive housing. In this way, the priorities of both agencies can be met in a way that is both mutually beneficial and deeply validating.

For more than two decades, VSH and VCEH have been joining forces in the regional fight to permanently end homelessness. It is collaborations like these that will ultimately put an end to a problem that has plagued our communities for far too long. VSH and VCEH agree – the time to end homelessness is now.

VCEH can’t achieve its mission without you. To support the effort to end homelessness in the Commonwealth of Virginia, become a VCEH member today!

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