Hopeful, Optimistic….But Also Impatient

Posted on February 15, 2012

Three nights ago, the temperature plunged down into the teens and the wind chill factor was even colder than that. Most of us passed the night in the warmth of our heated homes. But according to Homeward’s most recent Point in Time Count, almost 1000 people in our very own community did not have a home in which to sleep that night and more than 100 were forced to sleep outside in public parks, on fire escapes, and in encampments by the river.

Statewide, more than 9,000 Virginians experienced homelessness that night according to estimates by Virginia’s Department of Housing and Community Development.  Can you imagine sleeping outdoors in that kind of cold? The truly sad part is that we know how to fix homelessness and a solution is within our reach. It’s called permanent supportive housing.

“Permanent supportive housing works,” states John Dearie, board member with the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, in his recent RTD op/ed piece. “Eighty-five to 100 percent of the tenants in…Virginia’s PSH programs have not returned to homelessness. The National Alliance to End Homelessness recently identified the emergence of PSH programs as the single most important factor in reducing chronic homelessness in America in recent years.”

Even more important, according to Dearie, is the fact that the permanent supportive housing model delivers dramatic savings to the community. “A 2010 analysis of Virginia Supportive Housing’s A Place to Start initiative showed that the program had dramatically reduced this hopeless and costly cycle [of chronic homelessness], saving the local community $320,000.”

This is really good news because it means that political consensus is possible. At a time when politicians can’t even agree on the color of the sky, Democrats and Republicans are joining forces to support legislation that paves the way for policy amendments, funding, and eventually, new PSH developments.

Dearie goes on to say, “Much more work remains to be done. According to VCEH, another 7,000 PSH units are needed to end homelessness in Virginia. That’s a daunting number, but it can be achieved. And Virginia has already made impressive progress.”

At Virginia Supportive Housing, we are hopeful and optimistic…but we are also impatient.

Hopeful because we know that permanent supportive housing is what solves homelessness and we work toward that solution each and every day.

Optimistic because advocacy for this evidence-based model is slowly but surely growing, both across the state and across the nation.

Impatient because, for the people who are sleeping outside in frigid weather, that solution can’t happen soon enough.

To read John Dearie’s complete op/ed piece, click here.

To read what the National Alliance to End Homelessness has to say about permanent supportive housing, click here.

To find out more about the work of Virginia Supportive Housing, click here.
To support VSH, click here.

An Opportunity To Celebrate Our Shared Humanity

Posted on July 21, 2011

This week’s blog was condensed from a sermon delivered at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on July 17 by The Rev. Deacon Barbara Ambrose.

My husband John and I often enjoy visiting Washington DC during the Christmas holidays to see all the decorations, visit museums and try out a new restaurant or two.  It is not unusual for us to stroll downtown in the evenings when homeless people are emerging to set up sleeping areas in the doorways and niches of buildings closed for the night.  It is surreal to be sharing the sidewalk with expensively dressed people heading to warm environments and nourishing meals and then look down and see another human being in deep sleep under blankets and plastic sheeting surrounded by all that they possess. Responding to these situations is difficult – I have felt powerless to do anything other than pray for the homeless person as I pass and wonder how human beings can live in such desperate conditions in the midst of so much wealth, power, and beauty.

Of course one need not travel as far as Washington to experience the reality of homelessness.  For decades Richmond’s population has included people who make their home on the streets.  Many suffer with mental and physical illnesses that impede their ability to make a living or different choices.  Numerous groups work tirelessly to assist these most vulnerable members of society, but there is also a tacit effort to keep “the homeless” in designated areas.  In recent months great controversy erupted as plans to improve Monroe Park included vanquishing the homeless individuals living there, removing them along with debris and pushing them ever further toward the margins of society.

Maybe it is our human nature to establish artificial constructs of “good” and “bad” and then to separate out the bad.  As children, the criteria for separation may be the way someone dresses or the color of their hair.  Disabilities can also render children the target of scorn and estrangement from their classmates.  As we get older the lines of demarcation are just as arbitrary – athletic prowess, intellect, or career path.   And disability, mental illness or chronic medical conditions often remain as lines of separation.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus makes it quite clear that the job of judging our fellow human beings will fall to the angels and not to us. As Matthew’s Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24) demonstrates, it is not our job to determine which plants should remain in the field and which should be removed. But I do believe that we are expected to tend the field – keep it watered and nurtured so that it remains a fertile ground for the plants to flourish and mature.

The Oregon Hill Neighborhood [where St. Andrews is located] is one such field, and we have long been aware that our community includes homeless people.  While many within this congregation have longed for the ability to confront the challenge of homelessness in a meaningful and loving way, the path has seemed ambiguous and daunting.  Fortunately an opportunity to participate in a city-wide initiative has emerged, and there has been some exciting planning underway to participate in 1000 Homes for 1000 Virginians – Richmond campaign. This project’s goal is to systematically locate and interview every chronically homeless person in Richmond and include them in a registry that will be used to provide housing to those in the most need as it becomes available.  Virginia Supportive Housing and Homeward are the two agencies leading this initiative, along with the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness. The advantage of partnering with them is that they have the resources and expertise to develop and facilitate a comprehensive program that can make a substantive impact in lives of chronically homeless individuals.  With their guidance we can engage in specific tasks that will contribute to this very ambitious undertaking.

After training on July 31, a group from our parish will go out into our neighborhood on three consecutive mornings to locate and interview our homeless brothers and sisters so they can be included in the registry.  Volunteers are also needed to compile the information gathered by teams throughout the city, help manage the central command center, and support everyone involved with this project.

While registry week is the focus of this initial “mission trip at home” it is only a beginning.  This is an opportunity to cross that elusive line that has challenged our engagement with homeless people residing in our community.  Each of us can discern how we might be called to follow that path to tend our field and ensure that every plant growing here has a chance to flourish.  Hopefully our efforts will enable some who live on the streets of our community to eventually move to their own homes, and as we grow in relationship with them we can help facilitate those transitions, all the while celebrating our shared humanity as children of the kingdom.

Day 2 of Surveying [in Philly] and Two Words: Blown Away

Posted on May 18, 2011

This past weekend staff from Virginia Supportive Housing and Homeward took part in the 100,000 Homes Registry Week Boot Camp in Philadelphia. On Saturday and Sunday staff learned how to implement to 100,000 Homes Model  in Richmond. Part of that model is a Registry Week where the community administers health surveys to people experiencing homelessness. Volunteers, including Boot Camp attendees, went out at 4am three days in a row to canvas the streets of Philly to find and survey homeless individuals and families. It was an amazing experience. The blog below is after the second day of Registry Week. Please stay tuned for more information on Richmond’s Registry Week (August 1 through 5th) and how to get involved.

This is a guest post by the 100K Homes Philly Campaign. This blog post was originally posted on 100K Homes Philly blog. Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 07:50PM

It was cold, rainy and just messy on our streets this morning, which means most people want to stay in their nice warm safe beds as long as possible. Thankfully, the 100KHomes Philly teams rose at 2 and 3 am to hit the streets of Philly and see who among us did not have a warm and safe place to be. 

Teams were deployed to Horizon House’s Navigation Center, where over 50 people slept on a floor in Mantua to stay out of the rain. We attempted to survey everyone and most agreed. Teams went again to the SEPTA [subway] concourse and now most folks knew we were coming and organized themselves into a line to do the survey. Teams that had walked the streets and found no one had learned to check under the bridges and I-95 and found 4, 5 or 6 people today where yesterday, they had seen none.   The same teams want to go back again tomorrow, because they are learning, you just have to keep looking. People are there.

Perhaps most exciting, the NEAT team (also known as Team 3) engaged a person on Monday, who had every vulnerability criteria that the folks from 100K Homes national taught us about on Sunday.  Long time on the streets, alcoholism, serious mental illness and chronic health conditions, over 60 years of age, long physical health hospital admissions and ER visits. We had to act.  So the NEAT team went and engaged him again today with his case manager of 10+ years  from PATH and staff from Pathways to Housing PA, who have housing PLUS services to offer him.  We hope we can have him housed by Friday and will keep you posted. 

KYW stopped by and did some interviews at 315 S Broad St and went out with a team. Check out their interview at http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2011/05/17/volunteers-conduct-census-of-homeless-in-philadelphia/

This job would be impossible without the dedication and skill of our volunteers. Please don’t lose steam now; we’ve got one more big day and dozens of more people to reach! To date, we have 377 unduplicated interviews. Even for teams that haven’t completed lots of interviews, you are giving us a better idea of where homeless people stay (and where they don’t), which is absolutely invaluable information that will have service and policy implications. Kudos to all who are supporting us.

A warm loving shout out to Project Home and Bethesda Project, that had their opening for Connelly House today.  79 formerly homeless men and women now have a warm, safe place and a community downtown, thanks to the efforts of these two tireless agencies.

Stay dry, stay safe, stay warm, till you come join us again tomorrow.  And even when this event ends, we are not done.  Stay connected to the site for updates on events or how you can support the efforts. Follow us on Twitter at @100KhomesPhilly or like our Facebook page at 100K Homes Philly.

See you tomorrow. It’s supposed to be wet, so be prepared.

1,000 Homes Campaign – What's All The Hoopla About?

Posted on April 5, 2011

Across Virginia, communities are accepting that homelessness is solvable. 1,000 Homes for 1,000 Virginians is a statewide initiative – led by the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness – to house the 1,000 most vulnerable Virginians cycling between the streets, emergency shelters, hospital emergency rooms, jails, and prisons.

As part of the national 100,000 Homes Campaign, the 1,000 Homes for 1,000 Virginians initiative aims to compile information about the most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness, in Richmond and in other communities across the state and then systematically house them before their homelessness causes them to die.

Richmond, VA is the first city to join this statewide initiative.  Locally, Homeward and Virginia Supportive Housing are leading the 1,000 Homes for a 1,000 Virginians campaign.

So, why should we jump on this bandwagon and join this campaign?  Isn’t our community already permanently housing the most vulnerable individuals including people who are chronically homeless?

Well, we’re trying to, but we’re not always successful.  Last year, VSH successfully moved 13 individuals from our South Richmond supportive housing into their own apartments in the community.  This allowed us to fill the vacated apartments with individuals who were living on the streets or in shelters.  One of the individuals who moved into one of these vacant units had been homeless a year and was sick when he moved into this apartment.  Shortly after he moved in, he was hospitalized and never made it back to his new home.

Life on the street and in shelters is not merely uncomfortable and dangerous – it is often lethal as well. Individuals experiencing homelessness are three to four times more likely to die prematurely than the general population  resulting in an average lifespan 25 years shorter than that of the average American.

In 2010 according to Homeward, 17 people in our community like the gentleman who moved into South Richmond died while homeless or soon after exiting homelessness.  We should not accept this in this community.  It does not have to happen and indeed we’re hoping that it does not happen again.

In Richmond, there are approximately 943 homeless adults, and 165 living on the streets.   Forty-eight percent of homeless adults report a long-term disability.  And surprisingly, the cost of homelessness is higher than that of providing housing. Public services, tax dollars, and people all benefit from housing the homeless.

In undertaking the 1,000 Homes campaign, Richmond will follow the objectives and strategies of the national campaign.  On Friday, April 1, 2011, Mayor Dwight Jones helped us launch the campaign and put all of his backing behind the effort.   The launch was attended by community leaders from all sectors including health care providers, housing and homeless service providers, local and State government, and foundations.  The campaign launch sets the stage for a registry week in late July, followed by steps to permanently house the community’s most vulnerable citizens. 

In the next few months, we will:
1) Build a strong action-oriented local team that is ready to drive tangible housing outcomes;
2) Conduct a census in our community to clarify the demand for housing and create a by-name, photograph registry to help determine the need for local resources;
 3) Line up housing and support resources by bringing together private, non-profit and mainstream sources of housing and services to house people using person-specific data;
4) Move people into housing by working together to match people to the housing, service models, and rental supports best targeted to their needs;
5) Help people stay housed by partnering with community agencies to ensure that housed individuals are able to maintain housing, critical to the success of the program.

In short, by working together and specifically identifying and housing those most likely to die if left unhoused, we will do what we have not been able to do before—prevent people from dying on the streets by connecting a real person to an apartment immediately and giving that person a chance to survive and thrive in stable housing.  Find out more about how you can join us in this worthwhile effort. Send an e-mail to [email protected] to learn more about volunteer opportunities or attend an information session.  We can’t do it without your help.

Eight Little Words

Posted on March 29, 2011

In many ways, this past Sunday was a day like any other. It may have been unusually cold and overcast for the end of March, but otherwise nothing very earth-shaking seemed to be going on.

And yet, page one of section E of the Sunday Times-Dispatch featured a positively radical heading consisting of four little words in pale gray lettering: “We Can End Homelessness.” And the article beneath it, entitled “Connect Passion and Solutions,” perfectly captures with four more little words the simple yet revolutionary strategy required for achieving this ambitious goal.

It’s simple, according to the commentary’s author Kelly King Horne, executive director of Homeward. We say we want to end homelessness in our community. And thanks to three decades of research, we actually know how to do it. So…what’s the hold-up? Why, as King Horne points out, has the total number of people experiencing homelessness on any given day in our region remained relatively unchanged since 2007?

Does our community lack passion for or commitment to this issue? Quite the contrary. Just a few months ago, Governor McDonnell took the issue head-on when he assigned his own Senior Economic Advisor Bob Sledd to the statewide task force charged with generating an action plan. Richmond also has its own ten-year plan for ending homelessness, and the recommendations in both documents are clearly spelled out. Meanwhile, hundreds of community volunteers regularly demonstrate their deep commitment to the issue by supporting organizations in the regional homeless service providers system as well as city-wide events like Affordable Housing Awareness Week and  Project Homeless Connect.

Didn’t somebody famous once say, “If we don’t know where we want to go, it’s unlikely we will get there”? This is the point King Horne makes when she asks, “What do we mean when we talk about ending homelessness?” How do we define it? How do we measure it? What does it look like? How do we wrap our arms and our brains around something we have been struggling unsuccessfully with for decades?

Once we stop – really stop – thinking about the problem in terms of temporary fixes and start thinking about it in terms of permanent solutions, the answer becomes simple. Get families and individuals out of emergency shelters. Stabilize them with permanent housing as quickly as possible. Connect them to services. Problem solved.

Can it really be that straightforward? We at Virginia Supportive Housing know it can, because that’s what we do every day.  For over 20 years, we’ve been providing permanent housing and support services for homeless individuals and families. And with a 98% success rate, we know our integrated approach to ending homelessness really works. We can prove it.

So now what? King Horne’s inspiring commentary says it all. Connect passion to solutions. Learn more. Read Governor McDonnell’s task force recommendations. Read Richmond’s ten-year plan. Find out what other communities are doing. Then connect. Follow VSH on Facebook. Subscribe to our newsletter. Attend a presentation. Roll up your sleeves. Join our volunteer program. Be a part of our proven permanent solutions.

Once we know where we’re going, it’s likely that we really will get there. We CAN end homelessness!

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