Working Together to End Homelessness

Posted on November 17, 2009

For this week’s blog, I have asked Allison Bogdanovic, VSH’s Director of Housing Development, to write a few words about regionalism and homelessness.
Thanks, Alice


Virginia Supportive Housing (VSH) has been selected to present a workshop entitled “Regional Solutions to Housing Challenges” at the 2009 Governor’s Housing Conference scheduled for Nov. 18 through 20, in Norfolk.

Just as no individual should have to go it alone in the fight against homelessness, neither should one particular jurisdiction. Homelessness does not end at a city boundary. It hurts the social capital and economic growth opportunities for an entire region.

Regional collaboration is not a new concept. Local jurisdictions often work together to achieve efficiency in the global marketplace. Regions also take advantage of geograph¬ic proximity to unite around common interests, such as transportation or work force development.

All localities benefit from a reduction in homelessness.

VSH believes that regional collaboration is the key to addressing homelessness at a time of local and state budget limitations.

In late 2006, South Hampton Roads became home to the first regional supportive housing residence of its kind in the nation with the opening of Gosnold Apartments in Norfolk. The localities of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Portsmouth provided funding and rental subsidies. Developed and operated by Virginia Supportive Housing, Gosnold houses 60 formerly homeless individuals in studio apartments.

In 2008, Virginia Supportive Housing created Cloverleaf Apartments in Virginia Beach, the second regional permanent supportive housing development for homeless single adults in the region. This successful model is being repeated in Portsmouth with the development of South Bay Apartments, expected to open in the fall of 2010. As with Cloverleaf, the four cities of South Hampton Roads are providing funding and rental subsidies.

VSH is also building an addition to South Richmond Apartments located on Hull Street Road. The addition will provide twenty-one new studio apartments with comprehensive supportive services for formerly homeless single adults from the Richmond area with regional support from the City of Richmond, Henrico County, and Chesterfield County.

With permanent housing and support services, formerly homeless individuals improve their health, incomes and housing stability. Virginia Supportive Housing has a 90 percent success rate in assuring that its tenants and program participants do not return to homelessness.

Portions of this blog were originally published on November 5, 2008 in the Op-Ed section of The Virginian-Pilot.

What I used to believe

Posted on May 20, 2009

While I was at recent meeting talking about how to make our homeless system better and/or how to solve the problems of homelessness, a shelter provider made the comment that some people “need” transitional housing—that is, many are not ready for permanent housing. I said that I disagreed, but what I didn’t say is that I used to believe the same thing.

As one of the founders of the first emergency shelter in Richmond—the shelter at Foushee and Main Street, which opened its doors in 1981– I’m not proud of the fact that, as businesses go, we’ve grown our shelter system to where we have around 1,000 beds of emergency and transitional housing. On the surface, that sounds like a good thing. We’re keeping a lot of people out of the cold and giving them a safe place to sleep every night. But at what costs and is this what people need?

According to Homeward (the regions coordinating body on homeless services), the lowest shelter cost are the ones for single adults. It costs no more to permanently houses a single adult in one of the Virginia Supportive Housing’s (VSH) supportive studio apartments. It does cost more to permanently house a single adult with a serious mental illness in the VSH A Place to Start program because of the intensive services provided by a team of professionals. But, if you add up what these individuals were costing the community in terms of hospital costs, ambulance services, jail time, food pantries, health clinics; it is saving the community more by having a person permanently housed.

So, if cost is not an issue, do people need to stay in shelters or transitional housing because they’re not “ready” for housing—they need the time to “get it together”? Here’s a novel approach—why can’t people “get it together” so to speak while they’re in permanent housing? Of course they can! As a matter of fact, the permanent housing stabilizes an individual or a family and starts them on the road to improving their lives.

We have proven this with the VSH supportive studio apartments and especially with A Place to Start. We have taken people directly off the streets, some of whom had been living there for years, and placed them in permanent housing, and guess what? It works! If you ask someone living on the streets what they want most, 99% of them will say “a place to live”.

Do I think that we need to eliminate shelter? No, but, we need to re-think what we’re doing and focus our money and our efforts on viable solutions that work. Instead of 1,000 emergency shelter and transitional housing beds and only 400 permanent supportive housing beds, it should be just the opposite.

If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you keep getting the same results. Richmond, are you ready for a paradigm shift?

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