Happy Holidays From Virginia Supportive Housing!

Posted on December 21, 2010

This week’s blog was written by VSH’s Executive Director, Alice Tousignant.

I must be getting old because I’m not as stressed out as I usually am at this time of year.  It’s mid-December, the holiday craziness is in full swing, and there’s lots going on personally. It’s also the end of VSH’s fiscal year and the entire office is in an uproar, trying to wrap up reconciliations for our 2010 budget and finalize the budget for 2011. Yet, I’m still smiling and calm. Am I just completely out of touch or is this feeling really justified?

You decide.

Over the summer, we had the opportunity to transition 13 individuals out of South Richmond and into private housing in the community. One of these individuals, Joe Brightful, had been living at South Richmond for 14 years and is now feeling pretty happy. Once these folks had successfully moved on, we could then make their apartments available to 13 new clients who otherwise would be on the streets and in shelters.

We also had a groundbreaking at South Richmond to launch construction on 21 additional apartments that will be completed sometime next year, helping to reduce homelessness in the region. This is our first regional effort here in Central Virginia and we are extremely excited by the collaboration between Richmond City, Henrico and Chesterfield County to make this effort a success.

We have a brand new volunteer program which has given us 553 new friends who have performed 7421 hours of service helping us with a multitude of projects, saving us time and money in addition to spreading the word about VSH. You can see many pictures of these volunteers in action on our Facebook page and find out more by contacting our volunteer program coordinator at 804-836-1061 or [email protected].

We completed a 20-month evaluation of A Place to Start (APTS), demonstrating the incredible success of this program through two important measures: retention rate (98% for the first 50 people who enrolled in the program) and savings to the community (over $300,000 in hospital and incarceration costs alone)! In addition, we were able to enroll six new clients this year, one of whom had been homeless for over 10 years and in and out of psychiatric units many times.

We opened our third regional supportive studio apartment building in the South Hampton Roads area in late November. 33 people have already moved into South Bay, many of whom had been living on the streets and in shelters for a long time. Our property management staff services staff worked night and day to locate them and get them processed to move in. One staff member remarked “I’ve never seen people who had so few possessions.” Thanks to the generosity of many individuals and congregations, we were able to make sure that everyone had what they needed to feel “at home” in their new home.

I attended the holiday party for our clients in Richmond a couple of weeks ago, and lots of people showed up for great food and karaoke.  It gave me an opportunity to sit and talk with folks who are being housed and served by VSH, and it was very comfortable and normal. We didn’t talk about where they had been but about how they are doing now, and most are doing pretty well. With stable housing, they can focus on taking care of their health issues or getting their GEDs. They’re not homeless anymore. Many people simply told me, “Thank you.”

So, that’s why I’m still smiling.

I want to express my thanks to our amazing staff who perform miracles every day.  I also am deeply appreciative to our wonderful board, whose support and engagement are helping us grow to the next level. And finally, thank you to all of our friends and supporters in the community who help make this all possible. Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year!

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!

The Renovation of Monroe Park

Posted on September 21, 2010

Are we really doing a disservice to people who are experiencing homelessness by renovating the park or are we making it a nice place for everyone to visit and use?

If you’ve walked through Monroe Park lately, I think you would agree with me that it is in sad shape and in bad need of a facelift.  After having walked through or by the park numerous times in the last few years, I’m ready for this makeover.  I now have a granddaughter who started her freshman year at VCU and I’ve told her to stay away from the park, especially at night.  Deteriorating and poorly lit places breed crime.

It seems to me the issue isn’t about whether the renovations should happen but whether the renovations will discourage people who are homeless from using the park and in some cases sleeping in the park.  Once the park is renovated, it should be a great place for anyone, regardless of their housing situation.  And, call me crazy, but I don’t think a park bench is a safe place for anyone to sleep.  People who are experiencing homelessness should be inside if at all possible – in housing, preferably permanent housing – but if this is not available, in an emergency shelter.  We have 1000 emergency and transitional beds in this community and we have The Healing Place for folks with substance abuse issues.

Currently there is also a lot of concern over the weekend happenings in the park, where many well-meaning people from various congregations and groups come to provide food, clothes and bedding to those in need.  This is not an organized effort (i.e., no one is in charge) and I have heard complaints that oftentimes trash and stuff that is not picked up by folks is simply left for the City to pick up.

So, is this the best way to feed people on the weekends?  For those of you who don’t know, Freedom House serves a meal on Saturdays at 3:30 and a brunch on Sundays until 2pm.  They will also give bag lunches on Sundays to folks who need them.  The meals are served at the Conrad Center, which is at 17th and O Street.  Meals are also served there during the week in the morning and evenings.  Lunches are served every day by the downtown churches.  So why do people feel compelled to bring food and other things to the folks who are experiencing homelessness who gather in Monroe Park? 

Are we as a community doing this because the folks who gather there need food, clothes or bedding? Or are we doing it because we need to feel like we are doing something to help?

I don’t mean to disparage anyone who has helped people experiencing homelessness in Monroe Park, but I know that Freedom House could use more volunteers to help serve meals. To find out more about opportunities with Freedom House, please contact Christy Ellis, Community Resource Director at 233-4064, est. 209.  VSH also has plenty of opportunities available and would welcome individual and group volunteers who have a passion for helping people in need.

We’ve worked very hard in this community to develop a system of helping people in crisis and I think it works fairly well most of the time.  It is accessible and treats people with respect and dignity.  I don’t think we need to continue to use the park as a place to sleep or as a feeding program on the weekends.  I think it should be a beautiful place where my granddaughter and anyone, including people who are experiencing homelessness, can enjoy all of the time.

Sixteen percent fewer people in Richmond homeless, but the battle is not over…

Posted on September 7, 2010

I have asked Koury Wilson, one of VSH’s fall communications internship candidates, to write this week’s blog. Thanks, Alice

I awoke one morning to News 8 airing recent statistics stating that the number of individuals living on the streets in Richmond has decreased by 16 percent despite the dismal economy.

As a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, it’s not unusual to see many homeless men and women on campus, particularly in Monroe Park.  In many ways, the sight has become synonymous with the VCU experience itself.  It’s also not unusual to hear insensitive comments from students about the prevalence of “the homeless,” but the reality is that these people are struggling to survive and there are many more on the verge of losing their homes.

According to The United Way, “Even though the number of homeless is down, the need in the community for social services and assistance has increased.” So clearly, the battle is not over and we still have a long way to go. With Richmond’s financial crisis and a change of legislature, the state government has made budget cuts to many local agencies and services which cater to these needs.  While 2010 statistics show improvement, with less money for social programs, it’s uncertain how long the city will maintain this decline.  Chances are…not too long.

Virginia Supportive Housing is the only not-for-profit organization in Central Virginia that takes an integrated approach to ending homelessness…and it’s an approach that works. But the current need far exceeds current resources.

Maybe you’re like me and you don’t have the means to financially help every person you come across. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help. I can’t stress enough the importance of two “Vs”: Volunteerism and Voting.

Support VSH with the gift of your time! This non-profit has many meaningful opportunities available, ranging from beautifying its supportive properties, to engaging with clients, to influencing how the message is spread. When you volunteer, you’re not only making a difference in the lives of other people in need, but you’re also benefiting from the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that giving back provides. It’s a win-win.

However, getting involved doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be physically present.  While your involvement is strongly encouraged, donations can make a world of difference to the organization…and a life.  Your donations can help support current services and also assist in developing new services so that more individuals and families can get off the streets.

Homelessness can occur to anyone.  Whether you’re facing the threat of homelessness yourself or are simply interested in learning more about the issue, please register and take part the mid-term elections occurring on Nov. 2.  This is a problem that transcends party lines; all of our elected officials will have a say in how the state budget is distributed and what services need the most attention.  Virginia Supportive Housing counts on the state legislature to help move its mission forward by providing adequate funding.  By exercising your civic duty, you can directly contribute to VSH’s mission to reduce homelessness in Virginia.  So please participate in our democratic system this fall and contribute your time, talents, voice, and resources to put an end to homelessness in our commonwealth. Your support WILL make a difference!

Stability Is A Precious Thing In Life

Posted on August 17, 2010

I have asked Cristina Wood, one of VSH’s fall communications internship candidates, to write this week’s blog on her experiences volunteering at a homeless shelter in Northern Virginia.

I walked in the front door of the shelter like I had been doing every Thursday for the past several months. After waving to Celeste at the front desk, I proceeded upstairs to find the usual children playing with toys or being read to by other volunteers. I scanned the room for Ashley’s big eyes and long brown hair, and listened for her infectious laugh, but she was nowhere to be found. Peeking into the room next door where the children’s mothers were savoring their time to themselves, I was surprised not to be greeted with a mouthful of Spanish from Ashley’s mom that I could never understand, but always appreciated.

I walked back downstairs to Celeste. “Where’s Ashley?” I asked. “Oh, didn’t anyone tell you?” Celeste said with a confused look. “Ashley and her mother have been relocated.” I stared at Celeste speechless for a moment before questions began falling from my mouth. “Relocated? Why? She was here last week! Where is she?” “We can’t give that information out,” Celeste said and instructed me to go back upstairs to help the other children.

Since I began tutoring at this shelter, I had been assigned to Ashley and was able to witness her progress every week. Her English was getting better and her grades in school were improving dramatically. I looked forward to seeing her every week and helping her with her English and math homework. Her mother assured me Ashley loved my visits as well, but suddenly they were both gone forever.

It was then that I began to realize how strenuous it is to live in temporary shelter, where the only constant in your life is change. Ashley was only in second grade, and her mother spoke no English. I was devastated that Ashley had left and I wasn’t even the one that had to deal with the hardships of moving, possibly changing schools, and getting accustomed to a whole new environment. I could only imagine how difficult it was for Ashley and her mom.

Stability is a precious thing in life. Knowing that you have a home, family, or friends to keep you grounded is invaluable and should never be taken for granted. Providing people who are experiencing homelessness with a permanent place to live allows them to work towards getting their lives back on track without worrying where they will sleep next week. It is truly a wonderful thing and this sense of stability has been proven hugely successful through the efforts of Virginia Supportive Housing. I never saw Ashley again, but I hope that she is safe and, if she hasn’t already, that she will find a permanent home which can provide the foundation for her to build the rest of her life.

« Previous Page Next Page »
Subscribe to Our E-Newsletter