Restoring Hope

Posted on November 9, 2010

This week’s blog was written by VSH’s MSW intern, Robin Gahan

Hope – it’s a word we hear often, but perhaps fail to consider how deeply imbued it is with many nuances.  It’s driven political campaigns.  It’s helped some people cope with loss, or illness, and further still with recovery.  For some, hope implies a spiritual state of grace, for others a state of mind, and yet for others a dream to be realized.  In his influential Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and philosopher, echoes his own sentiment regarding hope.  As one of six critical elements of true dialogue, he asserts that hope is not so much a state of mind as it is a search or process of action,

“Hope is rooted in [humans] incompletion, from which they move out in constant search – a search which can be carried out only in communion with others.”

As a social worker and advocate, I cannot express how important hope is to the work I do.  The NASW Code of Ethics, which guides the profession, is driven by six core values: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence.  For me, it’s not a stretch to say that valuing the dignity and worth of people and the importance of human relationships fits well with hope.  When I moved to Richmond in 2001, I was emotionally struck by the prevalence of homelessness.  I knew that I had to be a part of meaningful change in the lives of others, in restoring hope.  In fact, it led me to pursue social work.   

Persons experiencing homelessness or those who are formerly homeless can tell you what it is to lose hope.  Sometimes you don’t even have to ask, it’s written on their faces.  In the face of adversity, some people can only focus on immediate survival and lose all sense of hope.   At Virginia Supportive Housing there is no conditional statement on treatment in order to be housed.  According to John Rio,

“Many people do not seem to be motivated when offered services now and a chance for housing and jobs later.  Repeated experience has taught many people that ‘later’ means ‘never’.” 

Recognizing that our clients have experienced failure time and time again, VSH desires to restore hope and provide people with an opportunity to believe again.   This is exactly the reason that Virginia Supportive Housing is capable of transforming lives and transforming communities.  For some, it may take more than a few attempts to fully engage in making change in their life – but we are here to support them and affirm their dignity and worth whenever they are ready.  We are restoring hope – and it’s a beautiful thing.

Did You Know…That the “face” of homelessness may be more recognizable than you expect?

Posted on October 5, 2010

What does the “face” of homelessness look like? We often envision desperate people down on their luck, on the sidewalk or the side of the road, holding strips of cardboard with messages begging for help. But housing crises can happen to anyone.

The faces of renowned celebrities are the faces we are least likely to associate with homelessness. For most of us, images of celebrity go hand-in-hand with images of success, fame, and fortune. So it’s difficult to imagine the likes of actress Halle Berry and comedian Jim Carrey once living out of their cars for months at a time.

Culinary expert Andrew Zimmern of “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” on the Travel Channel experienced homelessness for a year in the streets of lower Manhattan. In his 20s he developed a severe drug and alcohol addiction. “I lived in an abandoned building,” he said. “I was the guy you crossed the street to avoid if you walked by me in New York.”

In 1982 after receiving help in a Minnesota rehabilitation clinic, Zimmern got a second chance and turned his life around by finding a career in one thing he loved – food.  He became an executive chef in Minneapolis’ Café Un Deux Trois and eventually established himself as a television host and freelance writer.

British award-winning singer Sonique, real name Sonia Clarke, whose 2000 chart-topper “It Feels So Good” flooded American radio stations, experienced homelessness at the age of 16 after her mother left the United Kingdom to return to her native Trinidad.  “Like so many others who are homeless, I felt vulnerable, afraid and alone and my life was put on hold. I felt I was in a big hole,” she said.

By telling their stories, these individuals want to spread a message of hope. Yes, housing crises can happen to the best of us, regardless of our gifts and talents, and it often occurs because of circumstances beyond our control. But a second chance can, in many situations, not just get us back on our feet, but lift us to new and unexpected heights of self-fulfillment.

For many here in the Commonwealth, Virginia Supportive Housing is that second chance. By offering the necessary support – in the form of permanent housing and support services – VSH is able to give hope and help people to lead the productive lives they were meant to live.

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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