Posted on September 21, 2010
Are we really doing a disservice to people who are experiencing homelessness by renovating the park or are we making it a nice place for everyone to visit and use?
If you’ve walked through Monroe Park lately, I think you would agree with me that it is in sad shape and in bad need of a facelift. After having walked through or by the park numerous times in the last few years, I’m ready for this makeover. I now have a granddaughter who started her freshman year at VCU and I’ve told her to stay away from the park, especially at night. Deteriorating and poorly lit places breed crime.
It seems to me the issue isn’t about whether the renovations should happen but whether the renovations will discourage people who are homeless from using the park and in some cases sleeping in the park. Once the park is renovated, it should be a great place for anyone, regardless of their housing situation. And, call me crazy, but I don’t think a park bench is a safe place for anyone to sleep. People who are experiencing homelessness should be inside if at all possible – in housing, preferably permanent housing – but if this is not available, in an emergency shelter. We have 1000 emergency and transitional beds in this community and we have The Healing Place for folks with substance abuse issues.
Currently there is also a lot of concern over the weekend happenings in the park, where many well-meaning people from various congregations and groups come to provide food, clothes and bedding to those in need. This is not an organized effort (i.e., no one is in charge) and I have heard complaints that oftentimes trash and stuff that is not picked up by folks is simply left for the City to pick up.
So, is this the best way to feed people on the weekends? For those of you who don’t know, Freedom House serves a meal on Saturdays at 3:30 and a brunch on Sundays until 2pm. They will also give bag lunches on Sundays to folks who need them. The meals are served at the Conrad Center, which is at 17th and O Street. Meals are also served there during the week in the morning and evenings. Lunches are served every day by the downtown churches. So why do people feel compelled to bring food and other things to the folks who are experiencing homelessness who gather in Monroe Park?
Are we as a community doing this because the folks who gather there need food, clothes or bedding? Or are we doing it because we need to feel like we are doing something to help?
I don’t mean to disparage anyone who has helped people experiencing homelessness in Monroe Park, but I know that Freedom House could use more volunteers to help serve meals. To find out more about opportunities with Freedom House, please contact Christy Ellis, Community Resource Director at 233-4064, est. 209. VSH also has plenty of opportunities available and would welcome individual and group volunteers who have a passion for helping people in need.
We’ve worked very hard in this community to develop a system of helping people in crisis and I think it works fairly well most of the time. It is accessible and treats people with respect and dignity. I don’t think we need to continue to use the park as a place to sleep or as a feeding program on the weekends. I think it should be a beautiful place where my granddaughter and anyone, including people who are experiencing homelessness, can enjoy all of the time.
Posted on June 14, 2010
In December 2009, VSH received a generous grant from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation to install a community garden at our Cloverleaf property in Virginia Beach. This exciting project will serve as a pilot for gardens at other VSH properties and will be jointly maintained by Cloverleaf tenants and volunteers.
Community gardens provide a lot more than fresh produce. Here is just a sampling of what the garden has meant to the tenants…
“For me it touches my heart…To be in difficult life turmoil, and homeless…we at Cloverleaf share that common reality…the garden has been a bonding experience of all involved. We all face trials sometimes in life and knowing others truly care…gives each of us [a] new and healthier prospective on life…” – Nancy
“We now have the ability to produce our own flowers and vegetables. Which I feel is very rewarding and a blessing.” -Robin
“I learned a little more about planting seeds, plant[ing] different type[s] of flowers and vegetables. I learn[ed] to eat healthier where I lost 15 lbs and my diabetes is under control, what a great thing.” – Tyanna
“Community living can be difficult at times, but the garden is a tranquil and therapeutic place, and helps when I’m feeling down or overwhelmed. Each day I am excited to go out to my garden plot and I’m so amazed at how well the plants are thriving.” – Mary
To learn more about the Cloverleaf Community Garden, visit VSH’s Facebook page.
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!
Posted on May 4, 2010
Two weeks ago during Affordable Housing Awareness Week, Homeward held a Homeless Simulation where people could experience what it was like to be homeless and get the services that are needed. Participants in the simulation were given real life situations and were asked to assume the role of a homeless person or family. One situation also included someone who was on the brink of homelessness and needed prevention services.
Homeward did a great job planning and carrying out the event. I attended the de-briefing at St. Paul’s Church and the responses of the participants indicated that the simulation was an enlightening experience. The participants really got a sense of what people who are homeless go through just getting basic services like food and health care. Participants also got a taste of what it’s like trying to get from downtown to southside without a car. (Read one person’s account of his experience during the Homeless Simulation, including the trials and tribulations of trying to find the right bus.) Participants were overwhelmed with the paperwork that was required in order to receive services at a government agency. Why is that not surprising?
The participants gave all of the service providers a gold star for their responsiveness to people in need and the respect that everyone received as they waited for services or got help. When asked during the de-briefing if there were other services that were needed, no one could think of any.
I have to say that at that point, my heart sank. No one mentioned the critical need for permanent housing. After considering the characteristics of the simulation and its participants, I decided to give everyone at the de-briefing the benefit of the doubt. I believe participants were simply overwhelmed with obtaining the very basic needs for survival. People experiencing homelessness have to do so much just to get the basics: food, clothes, a bed for the night and if they’re sick, health care.
A permanent place to stay may not have been in the forefront of the simulation participants’ minds while they were standing in line to get food, bus passes etc. They were most likely thinking about the moment; bemused by the challenges they faced just to eat or travel a few miles.
As evidenced by the simulation, we as a community do a great job with the basics. Now, what more can we do? More importantly, how can we surpass expensive emergency services and solve the root of the problem?
When I finally had a turn to speak I talked about the other solution, besides prevention, to homelessness … permanent housing. Participants around the table nodded their heads and understood that this was the end game. Emergency housing and services are needed, but perhaps the most basic need of people experiencing homelessness is a home — a permanent place to live.
One participant asked me what they could do to help, which was a wonderful question. Here are some things that we (VSH) said:
- Learn more about the need for permanent housing — VSH gives tours.
- Educate others about how permanent housing is a solution to homelessness.
- Advocate for permanent housing at the federal, State and local level. Rental subsidies are very much needed in order to obtain and maintain permanent housing, especially for people who are disabled and have been homeless for a long time.
- Talk to landlords about renting apartments to people who may not have good credit and may have criminal histories.
These are just a few things that we can do so that we can begin to focus our efforts on the solutions to homelessness and transform our system. While VSH fully supports the Homeless Simulation, maybe we need a segment of the day to focus more on the permanent solutions to the problem. It could be titled “Walk in Their Shoes and Then See Those Shoes Under Their Beds”.
Posted on April 20, 2010
I have asked Alison Jones-Nassar, VSH’s Volunteer Program Coordinator, to write this week’s blog. Thanks, Alice
Affordable Housing Awareness Week was launched on Monday morning with a symposium at the Jepson Alumni Center focused on issues surrounding the topic of affordable housing. The first speaker looked around the room, filled primarily by housing awareness advocates, and asked, “Why should we learn about housing affordability?” And indeed, the events scheduled throughout this week are designed to answer that very question. Ultimately, I think the answer to that question depends on another question. Does everyone deserve a safe and stable place to live?
Affordable housing is not an abstract issue for me. It is not something that I only think about during business hours. My family lives in an affordable rental community with income qualifications in Chesterfield. Living in this community has made it possible for my children to attend quality public schools and receive an excellent education.
We have lived in the same building with many of the same neighbors for six years, and so I can feel secure knowing someone is watching out for my kids when they let themselves in after school. The grounds are well-kept and the buildings are well-maintained. And we have easy access to libraries, fitness centers, and many other services and activities that most people would consider necessary for a decent quality of life. More communities like this are desperately needed.
Just last week I drove through a neighborhood across town where clusters of grown men stood together on street corners and small children played among spilled garbage cans and strewn glass. Yards were abandoned, windows were broken, and cracked gates hung off hinges. I was astonished to see entire houses collapsing from years of structural neglect. For too many people, especially single parent families, this is what “affordable housing” really means: unsafe drug-infested neighborhoods, poor schools, and a lack of even basic services.
Does everyone deserve a safe and stable place to live? For me the answer is a resounding yes. I believe that all mothers, not just me, want safe neighborhoods and good schools and places to play for their children. Everyone, not just people in award-winning Chesterfield, wants decent transportation systems and convenient grocery stores with fresh produce and jobs that pay the rent.
So … Why should we learn about housing affordability? Because when you get right down to it, the issues that surround the subject of affordable housing are issues that lie at the very heart of the concepts of fairness and equality on which this country was supposedly founded and to which we all supposedly subscribe.
Affordable Housing Awareness Week was designed to help ordinary people not only understand more about housing affordability, but to take action. This week, fifteen area non-profits including Virginia Supportive Housing are welcoming community volunteers who would like to build, paint, rake, weed, plant, clean and make a visible difference in the community we all call home. It’s a great opportunity to volunteer and it’s also a great opportunity to learn. Because we can’t afford to be ignorant about affordable housing issues any more.