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 ajonesnass[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!

Checking In With Joe Brightful

Posted on August 25, 2010

It has been almost four weeks since Joe Brightful moved from South Richmond, his home for 14 years, to his new apartment in downtown Richmond. Recently we dropped by to visit Joe and see how he’s doing. It was an overcast afternoon, and the apartment was dim and cool. The ceiling fan rotated overhead, and the TV flickered at low volume. “I love to watch my soaps!” Joe grinned as he let us in.

A couple of boxes sat waiting to be unpacked, but otherwise the apartment looked well-ordered. Lists of phone numbers, bills, medical documents, and prescriptions were organized in a neat line along the kitchen counter, awaiting Joe’s attention. He had spent a lot of time on the phone with the VA Hospital that morning getting his medications straight. “I can’t do without my medications,” he explained. At one time, he had been on fourteen different prescriptions, but over the years that’s been cut down to less than half. “Being at South Richmond helped me to get [my medical conditions] straight.”

Now 56, Joe leaned back on his sofa with a big smile on his thin face and let out a sigh of contentment. “I love this place so much. I love just being able to relax in my own place with my music and my TV. It’s so quiet and peaceful. And it’s a good location, easy for me to get around when I need to. But sometimes I just don’t want to do anything but stay home and relax.”

Joe’s life was not always so peaceful or stable. At the age of 16, he enlisted in the army and served for six and a half years, including two years in Japan. Upon discharge, he says he travelled all across the U.S., visiting friends from the military and seeing the sights from his native Philadelphia to far-flung Alaska and Hawaii and everywhere in between. Eventually he settled in San Antonio, married, bought land, and planted an orchard with more than 500 peach trees.

Joe’s divorce and alimony settlement four years later was the beginning of the end for him, resulting in the loss of his land, home, health, belongings….and perhaps the most precious thing of all: his daughter, who was three at the time of the divorce. Once she got older, she spent years trying to contact her father, unaware that he had become homeless. Joe’s homelessness exacerbated his many medical conditions, and he says he was even declared clinically dead at one point after a catastrophic asthma attack.

In 1996, after spending four years in and out of shelters, hospitals, and soup kitchens, Joe was accepted at Virginia Supportive Housing’s newly opened property at South Richmond, and he slowly began to turn his life around. He made friends with Eugene, another tenant with very similar experiences, and “we went everywhere together.” In fact, when Joe finally made contact with his daughter and arranged to fly to Texas to reunite with her in 2006, Eugene accompanied him.

Joe’s medical battles culminated with a cancer diagnosis in 2008. Fortunately, surgeons were able to remove the large tumor, and Joe has been declared cancer-free ever since. His friend, Eugene, however, passed away last year from medical complications.

As Joe discussed the details of his eventful life, there was a soft knock at the door and his friend and neighbor Deborah* appeared. Deborah was also at South Richmond for more than a decade, and she says she is so thankful to have Joe’s companionship as she settles into her new living situation. “This move has done a lot for me, emotionally. I feel like I am finally home.”

Joe is now the proud grandfather of two little girls, Legacy and Trinity.  His eyes twinkle with delight as he describes the feeling of joy these little girls give him, a feeling that was absent in his life for so many years, and then he pauses in an attempt to sum up his thoughts about everything he has been through. “Legacy and Trinity, that says it all…these are the gifts life has given to me, and I am so grateful for every single thing.”

These are the Stories of Hope made possible by Virginia Supportive Housing. Many thanks to the staff members, volunteers, and community supporters who worked together to give Joe’s story a happy ending!

*Not her real name

Working Together to End Homelessness

Posted on November 17, 2009

For this week’s blog, I have asked Allison Bogdanovic, VSH’s Director of Housing Development, to write a few words about regionalism and homelessness.
Thanks, Alice

 

Virginia Supportive Housing (VSH) has been selected to present a workshop entitled “Regional Solutions to Housing Challenges” at the 2009 Governor’s Housing Conference scheduled for Nov. 18 through 20, in Norfolk.

Just as no individual should have to go it alone in the fight against homelessness, neither should one particular jurisdiction. Homelessness does not end at a city boundary. It hurts the social capital and economic growth opportunities for an entire region.

Regional collaboration is not a new concept. Local jurisdictions often work together to achieve efficiency in the global marketplace. Regions also take advantage of geograph¬ic proximity to unite around common interests, such as transportation or work force development.

All localities benefit from a reduction in homelessness.

VSH believes that regional collaboration is the key to addressing homelessness at a time of local and state budget limitations.

In late 2006, South Hampton Roads became home to the first regional supportive housing residence of its kind in the nation with the opening of Gosnold Apartments in Norfolk. The localities of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Portsmouth provided funding and rental subsidies. Developed and operated by Virginia Supportive Housing, Gosnold houses 60 formerly homeless individuals in studio apartments.

In 2008, Virginia Supportive Housing created Cloverleaf Apartments in Virginia Beach, the second regional permanent supportive housing development for homeless single adults in the region. This successful model is being repeated in Portsmouth with the development of South Bay Apartments, expected to open in the fall of 2010. As with Cloverleaf, the four cities of South Hampton Roads are providing funding and rental subsidies.

VSH is also building an addition to South Richmond Apartments located on Hull Street Road. The addition will provide twenty-one new studio apartments with comprehensive supportive services for formerly homeless single adults from the Richmond area with regional support from the City of Richmond, Henrico County, and Chesterfield County.

With permanent housing and support services, formerly homeless individuals improve their health, incomes and housing stability. Virginia Supportive Housing has a 90 percent success rate in assuring that its tenants and program participants do not return to homelessness.

Portions of this blog were originally published on November 5, 2008 in the Op-Ed section of The Virginian-Pilot.

And the award goes to…

Posted on September 21, 2009

I’m excited to announce that VSH Board Member and former tenant, Orville Banks is the winner of Homeward’s 2009 Steve Neathery Award for “successfully overcoming homelessness and helping others to make the same transition”.

The award will be presented at the Homeward’s 2009 Trends and Innovations Awards reception as part of this year’s Best Practices Conference on September 24th.

Having struggled with alcoholism for years, Orville became homeless in 2002. After spending 2 months at a shelter, he moved into VSH’s South Richmond Apartments in November of that year. With the help of the on-site support services staff, he began to address his alcohol dependence.

Having successfully dealt with his alcoholism and obtained employment, Orvillee moved out of South Richmond in 2004 to become the live-in Night Manager at New Clay House. New Clay is another VSH supportive apartment building for single adults who have been homeless.

Orvillee is passionate about giving back to his community. He serves on the VSH Board of Directors and has spoken at events, including Affordable Housing Awareness Week, to share his story with the public. He actively seeks opportunities to help others overcome addiction and homelessness, and routinely shares his story to inspire the tenants at New Clay to continue their efforts toward recovery.

Also, with the assistance of VSH’s Financial Foundations asset development program, Orvillee is working to achieve his financial management goals and is approaching the stage of pre-qualifying for a home loan.

Congratulations Orvillee! The award is well disserved.

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