Did you know…

Posted on February 9, 2010

that 43 percent of adults experiencing homelessness suffer from some disability*.

Today, Dan Jones** is proud to call Gosnold Apartments in Norfolk home. Before moving into Gosnold, for 15 years Dan slept outside and relied on soup kitchens for his meals. During this time, Dan did not take care of his health. In fact, he had no relationships for all of those years with any other person – friend, professional, or otherwise – until he met a homeless outreach worker who got to know him slowly and patiently. She helped to identify that Dan has a disability that impacts his interest in forming relationships and seeking out help.  Eventually, she convinced him to apply for disability benefits and an apartment at Gosnold.

For many months after he moved in, he was reluctant to talk to other tenants or staff. His apartment contained only what he needed to survive – no personal comforts or means of entertainment.  His appearance remained unkempt and haggard with a long beard and worn out clothing.

His new case manager at Gosnold was as patient as the outreach worker in getting to know Dan and offering assistance.  He would visit Dan in his apartment regularly just to talk and to be sure that Dan had what he needed. His case manager soon heard from Social Security that the disability checks that Dan had been awarded had not been cashed. Dan had no idea what to do with the checks that were arriving. This crisis became the opportunity that his case manager needed to engage Dan more closely.

Dan allowed Jay to help him set up a bank account, go with him regularly to the grocery store, and to address some other personal needs. In February 2009, Dan was enrolled in VSH’s Mental Health Support Services program to offer intensive skills training to address some of these emerging concerns. Dan’s social skills have begun to improve, and he agreed to go to Park Place Medical Center for a physical examination. Going to a primary care physician lead to the discovery of a health condition for which he now takes daily medications.

Dan recently purchased a reclining chair for his apartment, a few new sets of clothes, and volunteered for a trip to the barber to neaten up his appearance. He has said he feels like a “new man”.

For More Information: 
HUD’s 2008 Annual Homeless Assessment Report

* Disabled and Soaring Out of Homelessness
**”Dan Jones” is a pseudonym for a an actual VSH tenant.

There is always room for improvement

Posted on February 3, 2010

National research shows us that supportive housing works. It keeps people stably housed and helps them become more independent.

Since VSH has been operating supportive housing for 18 years, we can proudly say that over 90% of the folks that we house and serve do not return to homelessness. And some of our housing options have an even higher percentage.

We believe that one of the reasons for this success is our organization’s ongoing efforts to examine ourselves critically—looking for opportunities to improve our services and programs in order to create even stronger results. We know that even though we have nearly two decades of experience, we still have countless opportunities to learn.

Here’s a very concrete example.  We opened 60 supportive studio apartments in Norfolk, Gosnold Apartments and fully leased them in March of 2007.  Over 80% of the individuals were chronically homeless—extensive history of homelessness and severe disability.  We had never had such a high population of people in need.  Many people had lived on the streets for years and had all sorts of health, mental health and substance abuse issues.  They also were underemployed or not employed at all.  And, they were not used to paying rent.  We had one case manager to start with and then hired another to provide much needed services.

One year after we fully leased Gosnold, our success rate for keeping people in housing was not up to Virginia Supportive Housing’s high standards. We were forced to legally evict 10 people, and another 10 people left for other reasons. Nobody was happy about this, including our valued community partners.

I asked staff to work with me on a corrective action plan for Gosnold. We took a very hard look at everything we were doing there, and determined that major changes were needed in the way we were handling this new and challenging population. We replaced staff that were underpeforming, had special training for both property management and services on how to work better together and communicated our progress to our community partners on a bi-monthly basis.  We established a goal of reducing negative turnover (evictions) by 10% in 2009.

I am happy to report that our negative turnover at Gosnold Apartments in 2009 was zero.  That’s right—we did not evict a single person.

The main reason for this great success is that our staff, both property management and services are now better trained and are working very closely together on the joint goal of keeping people in housing. It’s a lesson we’re glad we learned. And one we’ll continue to examine, evaluate and enhance in the years ahead.

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