We Can't Do It Without Volunteers!

Posted on May 11, 2011

On a beautiful spring evening last week, VSH held a reception to thank volunteers at the home of VSH Board President Leon Shadowen.  It was our first official volunteer recognition event since implementing our volunteer program in 2010.

If you look at sheer numbers alone, our embrace of volunteerism has been wildly successful: over 450 volunteers in 2010 compared with 50 in 2009.  We logged almost 500 hours per month of volunteer time in 2010!

But, who’s counting?  What’s really important is the experience that volunteers have working with VSH, its properties and clients (volunteer satisfaction with their experience was either good—64% or excellent—36%). Even more important is the impact that volunteers have on VSH and the lives of our clients.  Just watch the YouTube video that features Capital One volunteers helping Joe Brightful move into his new apartment to get a sense of the impact.

While many volunteers supported us in many valuable ways last year, we felt compelled to give special recognition to three groups of volunteers who went above and beyond the call of duty. We were privileged to give our Bob Sledd Volunteer of the Year Award to: 

This wonderful new volunteer program at VSH doesn’t just happen on its own.  VSH is extremely blessed to have the best volunteer coordinator in town, Alison Jones-Nassar, who tirelessly works alongside the volunteers, smiling and encouraging all the way.  The volunteers do an amazing job because they know that every single activity and project they do helps us accomplish our mission to end homelessness!

So, thanks to everyone who attended this beautiful event last week and thanks to Leon Shadowen and his wife Laurie for hosting the event. Most of all, thanks to every VSH volunteer for giving the gift of your time so that we can do what we do best – provide proven, permanent solutions to homelessness. We can’t do it without you!

To see photos of volunteers in action, click here. To be a part of VSH’s volunteer program in 2011, click here.

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!

A Paradigm Shift For The State Of Virginia

Posted on January 4, 2011

An amazing thing happened at the 2010 Governor’s Housing Conference in November.  Governor McDonnell and his senior economic advisor, Bob Sledd, announced an overall goal to reduce homelessness in the State by at least 15% by 2013, from 8,883 to 7,550.  Why is this so remarkable? Because the Commonwealth of Virginia has actually never established a goal to reduce homelessness before!

Bob Sledd chaired the Homeless Outcomes Advisory Committee that helped to create these objectives and craft this bold initiative. The Committee was comprised of Cabinet level State agency representatives as well as numerous providers. I was lucky enough to be a part of this group, which also sought input from stakeholders throughout the state.

Not only is there an overall goal, but there are specific objectives and strategies that were developed to help meet this goal.  The most ambitious objectives call for a 15% increase in the number of permanent supportive housing units for fiscal year 2012 and 20% for 2013 above the current inventory.  This is an acknowledgement of the importance and success of permanent supportive housing in solving the problem of homelessness for a large segment of the homeless population.

Another specific objective, related to homeless prevention and rapid rehousing, sets a target increase of 10% in the number of individuals and families placed in permanent housing. The fact that we are going to concentrate on prevention and permanent housing as opposed to emergency and short term shelter solutions is extremely exciting and novel. It’s a true paradigm shift for the State of Virginia. Instead of paying to keep our emergency shelter beds occupied, we will be paying to empty them out and keep them empty!

This is a very exciting time for the Commonwealth of Virginia. While there is no additional funding to accomplish this effort, new and existing resources will be prioritized in order to ensure that these objectives are accomplished. With Bob Sledd as the champion leading the charge, I have no doubt that we will accomplish this goal.

As we begin 2011, I am optimistic that the State will do everything in its power to shift its efforts from managing homelessness to preventing and ending it.  VSH is very happy to participate and help lead this effort. To support our proven permanent solutions in the new year, click here.

A Once-In-The-State Opportunity

Posted on July 6, 2010

As I sit here wearing my red, white and blue outfit in honor of the holiday that just passed celebrating our nation’s freedom, I find myself thinking about our nation more as the land of opportunity and having similar thoughts about our beautiful Commonwealth of Virginia.

Virginia has so much going for it: natural beauty; wonderful art and history; a diverse & thriving economy in many places; higher than average median income; and unemployment at about the national average.  Virginia also has about 40,000 people each year who experience homelessness.  But we have a tremendous opportunity in Virginia to finally do something about this problem, thanks to Governor McDonnell and his Senior Economic Advisor, Bob Sledd.

In April, the Governor issued an Executive Order to develop a Housing Policy Framework for the Commonwealth that included guiding principles, one of which was to “address the needs of homeless Virginians by focusing on the reduction of chronic homelessness, ensuring the continuing … safety net of shelters and services, and investing in transitional and permanent supportive housing.” 

To that end, the Governor appointed an Advisory Group of State agency representatives across several secretariats as well as private agency representatives from across the state that is charged with developing recommendations to help prevent and reduce homelessness in the Commonwealth.  I am honored to be part of this Advisory Group lead by Bob Sledd and especially heartened by the caliber of people at the table, to include Secretary Bill Hazel, Commissioner Jim Stewart and DHCD Director, Bill Shelton. 

The group’s charge is to develop a plan to leverage state resources more effectively, maximize the effectiveness of State services and resources for people who are homeless, realize efficiencies through enhanced coordination, and reduce the number of individuals who are homeless.  And, these guys mean business—we only have until October to deliver these recommendations, which must be realistic, doable, and specific!

There is also an opportunity to get input from providers and anyone in the public who would like to weigh in on best practice solutions and ideas for removal of any barriers to effective coordination and use of resources through four input sessions in different parts of the State that will be held during the next 30 days.

This is a great opportunity to make a real difference in Virginia.  This is our chance to help improve coordination, identify more efficient use of resources, impact the allocation of resources and funding priorities, influence State policy and most importantly help prevent and reduce homelessness in the Commonwealth.

What are YOUR thoughts on the issue of homelessness in Virginia and what our state needs to do to end it? Please take the opportunity to comment directly to this blog or to attend one of the input sessions.  I promise to listen to your input and to do my best to make sure this opportunity does not go by the wayside.

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