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!

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.

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.

The Feeling Of Safety, The Meaning Of Hope

Posted on January 26, 2010

A recent poll among homeowners  indicated that more than 30% experienced real fears of being homeless within the last year. All the while, rates of foreclosure and homelessness continue to rise.

Homelessness is a reality for many families, but at Virginia Supportive Housing, we can transform that reality into a dream of stability, safety, and hope.  What does that really mean to the people we serve? There are faces behind the statistics—living, breathing individuals whose lives are changed by having a safe place to call home. It is in their stories that you learn why we do what we do. This is one of our Stories of Hope.

“When our time at the shelter was up, I was terrified. Now that I was clean and had custody of my kids, I was responsible for their lives as well as my own. I was filled with fear. I couldn’t do anything that would jeopardize my freedom or sobriety, but even though I had a job, I couldn’t afford anyplace decent. Where were we going to sleep?

When I found out about VSH’s Family Apartments I was so relieved, finally, a safe affordable place where I could raise my kids. The apartment is also a place where I can grow and be a better person. Best of all, I’m not alone. My case manager is always available, supporting me and connecting me to community resources if I need them. For the first time in 15 years, I’m living life right.” – Barbara*, Family Apartment Resident

*”Barbara” is a pseudonym for a an actual VSH family client.

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