VSH Breaks Ground For New Studios At South Richmond!

Posted on December 7, 2010

The morning of Tuesday, December 7 was bitterly cold – perfect weather to celebrate the ground-breaking for a new construction project that, when completed, will get 21 chronically homeless individuals off the streets and into permanent housing! Virginia Supportive Housing was very proud to have The Honorable Dwight Jones, Mayor of the City of Richmond, and many other esteemed guests present at this ground-breaking event, which highlighted the collaborative efforts of the City of Richmond, Henrico County, and Chesterfield County to eliminate homelessness in Central Virginia.

In addition to Mayor Jones, VSH Executive Director Alice Tousignant proudly welcomed a number of other guest speakers including: Jay Stegmaier, Chesterfield County Administrator; Mark Strickler, Director of Henrico County Community Revitalization; Ronnie Legette, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Richmond CPD Field Office Director; Jim Chandler, Director of Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program with the Virginia Housing Development Authority; Willie Fobbs, Associate Director of Affordable Housing Production and Preservation with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development; Graham Driver, Director of New Market Tax Credits & Project Development Advisor with Virginia Community Development Corporation; and Karl Bren, President of Green Visions Consulting and Founding Board Member of Virginia Supportive Housing.

South Richmond Apartments, which opened in 1996, currently provides permanent supportive housing for 39 very low-income formerly homeless individuals, many of whom have disabilities. The addition of 21 new units will bring the total to 6o units. Construction will add 13,856 square feet to the existing apartment complex. Eleven of the 21 units will be disability-accessible. In addition, The Studios at South Richmond will be EarthCraft Virginia-certified for green building and energy efficiency, and will incorporate a photovoltaic solar energy system designed to reduce the building’s energy load by 20%.

To view the photos of this exciting event, just click here!

Stories Of Struggle, Endings Of Hope

Posted on August 31, 2010

I have asked Alison Jones-Nassar, VSH’s volunteer program coordinator, to write this week’s blog. Thanks, Alice

Reading an article in this weekend’s Daily Press reminded me of the response I always get whenever I tell someone I work with Virginia Supportive Housing. The circumstances may differ and the details might change slightly, but it’s always a variation on the same theme.

The article, entitled “Mom, Family Escape Homelessness,” describes the efforts of a young Newport News woman, Suzanne Richardson, to overcome a mountain of obstacles in order to avoid a housing crisis and maintain a safe home for her mother, brother, and two young children, Anais (5) and Jamere (1).

Some of the obstacles Suzanne has encountered are the results of mistakes made, starting with her own decision to drop out of high school and her first pregnancy as a teenager. Others are through no fault of her own. Her mother is on disability. The home they were renting went into foreclosure.

Despite some bad judgments, Suzanne has made every attempt to rectify her mistakes for the sake of her family by following the rules. She achieved her GED, went back to college to become a certified massage therapist, and graduated with honors. She found a job and received high recommendations from her supervisor and co-workers.

But in the face of foreclosure, her minimum-wage job could not cover the cost of the security deposit and first month’s rent for a new place. She didn’t have enough money to pay the electricity bills or put food on the table. And then her car broke down.

Combined, the obstacles Suzanne has faced would be enough to overwhelm anyone – and yet she keeps persevering. “I just thought, ‘I’ve got to keep moving. I’ve got to try my best.” She has jumped through all the required hoops, working hard and never asking for favors or special treatment. But somehow, it’s never quite enough.

Whenever I tell someone I work with VSH, this is the story I hear again and again. A brother, a daughter, a friend, a neighbor, someone from the congregation. A lost job, an abusive parent, a divorce, a car breakdown, a medical emergency, an emotional crisis. There are so many stories out there, so many people who are struggling so hard. Some of them, like Suzanne, are barely managing to hold on by the skin of their teeth. Many others are not.

I often wonder how I would cope in a situation like that. If I was in Suzanne’s place, would I have the resilience to keep going? To keep following the rules? To smile for my kids and believe in a happy ending? My work with Virginia Supportive Housing allows me to be a part of an organization that makes a real difference in the lives of people like Suzanne. By getting the community involved in what we do, I help to increase awareness of all those stories out there and mobilize the resources required to help. The good news is that VSH makes happy endings possible. Are you ready to find out more about how you can give someone’s story a happy ending?

Did you know…that homelessness is the 800 pound gorilla in the (news)room?

Posted on August 11, 2010

Although homelessness is not a frequent topic in the news, its shadow haunts many of our headlines.

On any given day, it is unusual to see even one brief mention of homelessness in the local news. In today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, for example, the most popular articles focused on Ted Stevens, pop tarts, sex abuse, and high-speed chases. A targeted search using “homeless” as the key phrase comes up empty.

On NBC 12, the top headlines feature Amtrak discounts, the opening of Richmond’s first charter school, and the investigation results of a deadly police standoff. Again, a key phrase search comes up empty.

Items about homelessness are slightly more frequent in the South Hampton Roads area. Yesterday, on Wavy.com (the news channel serving that area), there was one item about the approved installation of “donation meters” along the Virginia Beach board walk, a measure designed to address the issue of panhandling.

A Google search of top national news items results in the tirade of the JetBlue flight attendant, Ted Stevens, flooding in China & Pakistan, and the trade deficit. If you narrow the search, only two items come up for today’s date; one about homeless camps “sprouting like mushrooms” in Santa Cruz, and the other about the death of a proposal to build a large housing complex for the homeless in the Dallas area. This summarizes the number of items appearing across the national radar.

Even more comprehensive national news outlets such as NPR only infrequently mention the issue of homelessness, and it is often buried under other “more timely” issues. For example, on the day that the federal homeless plan was released (June 22), it was necessary to wade through fourteen other articles covering topics such as cleaning oiled birds, the guilty plea of the New York car bomb suspect, and the Rolling Stone article about General McChrystal before locating the announcement by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

It’s no wonder that people experiencing homelessness are frequently referred to as “invisible.” Their daily struggles are not newsworthy, and very often, when they do appear in the news, the reports have an unpleasant connotation that seems to support the overall perception that “the homeless” are dangerous drug-addicted mentally ill criminals who are too lazy to work and feed off services supported by tax payer dollars. 

On the other hand, multiple items appear in the local and national news every single day regarding subjects such as unemployment rates, unemployment benefits, job creation, underemployment, home foreclosures, affordable housing, health care accessibility, disability & mental health coverage, budget cuts for social services, quality of education, access to education, the cost of college tuition, etc.

Although homelessness is not the explicit focus in any of these headlines, its shadow lurks on the edges of all these issues in a conspicuous but unspoken way, because these factors, especially when combined all at one time, play a critical role in the housing crises of both individuals and families.

And ultimately, we care about unemployment, health care, and affordable housing because of the specter of widespread homelessness that hangs over all these issues, threatening the very foundations of our society.

So the next time you pick up the paper and read the latest news regarding foreclosures, unemployment rates, or health care legislation, remember that, whether we acknowledge it or not, housing as a fundamental human right is at the core of every headline.

The Feeling Of Safety, The Meaning Of Hope

Posted on January 26, 2010

A recent poll among homeowners  indicated that more than 30% experienced real fears of being homeless within the last year. All the while, rates of foreclosure and homelessness continue to rise.

Homelessness is a reality for many families, but at Virginia Supportive Housing, we can transform that reality into a dream of stability, safety, and hope.  What does that really mean to the people we serve? There are faces behind the statistics—living, breathing individuals whose lives are changed by having a safe place to call home. It is in their stories that you learn why we do what we do. This is one of our Stories of Hope.

“When our time at the shelter was up, I was terrified. Now that I was clean and had custody of my kids, I was responsible for their lives as well as my own. I was filled with fear. I couldn’t do anything that would jeopardize my freedom or sobriety, but even though I had a job, I couldn’t afford anyplace decent. Where were we going to sleep?

When I found out about VSH’s Family Apartments I was so relieved, finally, a safe affordable place where I could raise my kids. The apartment is also a place where I can grow and be a better person. Best of all, I’m not alone. My case manager is always available, supporting me and connecting me to community resources if I need them. For the first time in 15 years, I’m living life right.” – Barbara*, Family Apartment Resident

*”Barbara” is a pseudonym for a an actual VSH family client.

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