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.

No Quick Fixes

Posted on January 18, 2011

Ours is a culture of quick fixes. Learn a language in five minutes a day. Lose 14 pounds in 14 days. Become a millionaire by scratching a lottery ticket. We expect problems that have resulted from years of bad luck and bad habits to disappear overnight, and when one quick-fix doesn’t work, we quickly lose patience and move on to the next “sure thing.”

It was no surprise, then, that when Ted Williams burst into the headlines just after the new year, people expected a quick turnaround. Despite a very complicated history that included a decade of homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse, and estrangement from family, the expectation was that he “take advantage” of all the opportunities that were flowing his way and “be good.” “Listen to your mom!” is what The Today Show’s Matt Lauer advised him.

It would have been enough to make anyone’s head spin. This individual went from living on the street and panhandling at traffic lights to having a new house and a lucrative broadcasting contract within a week. He went from invisible nobody to special guest on The Jimmy Fallon Show, Entertainment Tonight, and Dr. Phil in the blink of an eye. With so much invested in his success, people needed to believe that a “fairytale ending” was possible. Disappointment was not an option.

Did we really believe it was going to be that simple?

Less than ten days after skyrocketing to fame, Ted Williams was arrested for disorderly conduct and voluntarily admitted into rehab soon after. Of course, public reactions ran the gamut. “It is truly amazing that Americans always get sucked in by people like Williams. The man is a drunk and almost beyond hope.”  “I grew up with one of the best BS artists on the planet…Ted is about one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Others seemed to feel more compassion. “I am very happy that this homeless person is getting another chance in life: most homeless are more likely to win the [lottery] than to be given such a good chance. I wish him well.”

Regardless of whatever opinions and feelings we may have on the subject, one thing is certainly true. Chronic homelessness is not a quick fix. The spiral into homelessness is often exacerbated by a number of complicating factors, and it can take years. It only stands to reason that true recovery would also take years, and some people struggle with it for the remainder of their lives. Three decades of research tells us that people like Ted Williams can’t even begin to heal without the support and stability that permanent supportive housing offers.

So let’s not kid ourselves. The path is long and the issues are complex. If we are going to insist that people turn their lives around, it only makes sense that we invest our hopes and resources in the strategy that offers them the best chance of succeeding. With permanent supportive housing, we might not get that “fairytale ending” that we crave so much, but we can get something even better: an end to 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.

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!

Stories Of Struggle, Endings Of Hope

Posted on August 31, 2010

I have asked Alison Jones-Nassar, VSH’s volunteer program coordinator, to write this week’s blog. Thanks, Alice

Reading an article in this weekend’s Daily Press reminded me of the response I always get whenever I tell someone I work with Virginia Supportive Housing. The circumstances may differ and the details might change slightly, but it’s always a variation on the same theme.

The article, entitled “Mom, Family Escape Homelessness,” describes the efforts of a young Newport News woman, Suzanne Richardson, to overcome a mountain of obstacles in order to avoid a housing crisis and maintain a safe home for her mother, brother, and two young children, Anais (5) and Jamere (1).

Some of the obstacles Suzanne has encountered are the results of mistakes made, starting with her own decision to drop out of high school and her first pregnancy as a teenager. Others are through no fault of her own. Her mother is on disability. The home they were renting went into foreclosure.

Despite some bad judgments, Suzanne has made every attempt to rectify her mistakes for the sake of her family by following the rules. She achieved her GED, went back to college to become a certified massage therapist, and graduated with honors. She found a job and received high recommendations from her supervisor and co-workers.

But in the face of foreclosure, her minimum-wage job could not cover the cost of the security deposit and first month’s rent for a new place. She didn’t have enough money to pay the electricity bills or put food on the table. And then her car broke down.

Combined, the obstacles Suzanne has faced would be enough to overwhelm anyone – and yet she keeps persevering. “I just thought, ‘I’ve got to keep moving. I’ve got to try my best.” She has jumped through all the required hoops, working hard and never asking for favors or special treatment. But somehow, it’s never quite enough.

Whenever I tell someone I work with VSH, this is the story I hear again and again. A brother, a daughter, a friend, a neighbor, someone from the congregation. A lost job, an abusive parent, a divorce, a car breakdown, a medical emergency, an emotional crisis. There are so many stories out there, so many people who are struggling so hard. Some of them, like Suzanne, are barely managing to hold on by the skin of their teeth. Many others are not.

I often wonder how I would cope in a situation like that. If I was in Suzanne’s place, would I have the resilience to keep going? To keep following the rules? To smile for my kids and believe in a happy ending? My work with Virginia Supportive Housing allows me to be a part of an organization that makes a real difference in the lives of people like Suzanne. By getting the community involved in what we do, I help to increase awareness of all those stories out there and mobilize the resources required to help. The good news is that VSH makes happy endings possible. Are you ready to find out more about how you can give someone’s story a happy ending?

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