Digital Divide

Posted on April 7, 2010

I have asked Allison Bogdanovic, VSH’s Director of Housing Development, to write this week’s blog. Allison holds a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from University of Richmond. Prior to working with VSH, Allison was a corporate information technology consultant. Thanks, Alice

In addition to being a staff member of VSH, I am a member of the Leadership Metro Richmond (LMR) Class of 2010. My LMR project team selected bringing Internet access to New Clay House as its community service project. Our goal is to provide New Clay House with two desktop computers, software, accessories and Internet access for an estimated cost of $5,000.

Providing New Clay House tenants with Internet access will help bridge the digital divide, offering much-needed access to employment and education and connections to family, friends, and support systems.

Linda Billings’ story of hope was highlighted in the March 23rd VSH blog. Billings is a VSH client who is utilizing the internet in order to improve her life. At 58 years old, she is working on getting her GED. Now that it is possible to get a GED on the web, internet access has become an invaluable tool.

Please visit the Huffington Post to read an article about how a computer lab connects individuals experiencing homelessness with employment.

If you are interested in helping to provide Internet access to the forty-seven formerly homeless tenants of New Clay House please call me at 804.836.1052 or e-mail me ([email protected]).

After a Lifetime of Turmoil, Home is Found

Posted on March 23, 2010

The sun shines down in rays through the blinds on her living room window as Linda Billings*,58, sits on her couch, hands clasped and resting in her lap.

With wide eyes, she begins to talk about how she experienced homelessness for the first time in her life in the fall of 2009.

“If you would have asked me 30 years ago I would have told you, ‘Nah, no way, not me,’”  Billings says about whether or not she thought she‘d ever experience homelessness.

The oldest of her siblings, Billings has always been independent and a hard worker. At the age of 12, she began working at a diner where her mother was employed and says she has been “hooked” on making money ever since.

Billings married when she was 19 years old.

“My ex-husband was what they (some people) call an overnight drunk,” Billings says , “I worked 2 or 3 jobs at a time to support our family.”

Despite his alcoholism and eventual physical and emotional abuse, Billings remained married to her first husband for 12 years. She finally was able to break away from her tumultuous relationship and buy her own house.

“I’d have probably given up … I don’t know where I would have ended up if it hadn’t been for my children,” a misty-eyed Billings says, “They helped me.”

It wasn’t long before another man battling addiction would cause turmoil in her life; this time it was her own son.

Billings’ son would come to her every time he needed money. He would claim that if he did not pay, drug dealers would come after him and then his family, including Billings herself.

“In the beginning, sometimes I’d believe those stories,” Billings says, “Drug dealers will come after you.”

After losing vehicles and her second home because of her son’s addiction, Billings was told by doctors that she could no longer work because of health complications caused by varicose veins.

Unable to work, Billings was left with no place of her own to call home.

Her independent ways are what Billings says allowed her to never give up. Through the local shelters, she heard about Virginia Supportive Housing and contacted them immediately.

Billings had her eye set on a certain apartment building where she wanted to live.  In just a couple of weeks, through the HPRP program at VSH, she was able to obtain her own apartment in that very building.

As Billings sits in her freshly vacuumed, candle-scented apartment, she explains how she is working on getting her GED.

“Virginia Supportive Housing has helped in so many ways. For one thing, knowing that they were there and willing to support me and help me get to where I am,”  Billings says, “ I am so blessed and thankful to have them (VSH) in my life.”

*Name was changed to protect program participant’s privacy.

It’s rough out there

Posted on August 5, 2009

Last week I got a call from a friend who has just become the latest victim of the economic crisis. The business she had worked for abruptly closed its doors leaving hundreds of people without jobs. With one out of ten people unemployed here in Richmond and in South Hampton Roads, it’s rough out there.

But my friend has a college degree, lots of marketable skills and a great work history. Since her husband works, she also won’t be hurt too severely if she has to collect unemployment for awhile.

It could be worse. What if she hadn’t graduated college or even high school? What if she lacked marketable skills and a solid work history? What if she had a history of homelessness, possibly a criminal background and bad or no credit? “Rough” wouldn’t begin to describe her chances of finding a job.

If you were an employer looking for employees, would you hire someone like my friend, or would you hire someone who has none of her favorable attributes? What is happening right now is that people who are homeless, or those who are stably housed but living on the edge, are getting pushed out of the very low end jobs they normally are able to find.

We are seeing this with individuals and families that live in Virginia Supportive Housing properties. A few VSH residents had steady jobs at restaurants, but business slowed down and they lost their jobs. Another resident’s time was cut from thirty-two hours a week to just six. She was told, “There are just too many people competing for work.”

We have many residents looking to work any type of job. If they are lucky enough to find something, it may be only a few hours a week; not even enough to pay our minimum rent of $50 per month, especially after paying bus fare to get there and back. Those “odd jobs” our folks used to find, such as detailing cars or doing minor home repairs, are no longer available. When is the last time you saw a line outside a day labor place?

Our goal is to keep people stably housed, which is very difficult these days. Our support services staff spends much of their time helping our residents scrape up enough money to pay rent by going to congregations or asking for help at crisis assistance programs like ACTS, Salvation Army, and the Homeless Prevention Program in Norfolk. We even have several residents giving blood every week to make ends meet!

We are hoping that the economy will turn around soon and that the Stimulus funding is distributed quickly. In the meantime, we continue to rely on the generosity of the public to help keep our residents stably housed. It’s rough out there, especially for those at the bottom.

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