Why is what we do at Virginia Supportive Housing important?

Posted on April 25, 2012

This blog was written by Stephanie M. Johnson, Housing Development Officer for VSH.

I have been asked on numerous occasions ‘Why is what we do at Virginia Supportive Housing important?’ There are many layers to my response but in summary ‘We are helping others by providing safe and affordable housing that incorporates environmentally responsible design features which improves communities and betters lives.’

The primary reason that anyone enters a career that is dedicated to ending homelessness is because they want to help others; I am no different. I have a great amount of respect for the homeless individuals that we serve. They are able to survive in extremely difficult circumstances that most of us cannot even imagine. Being able to provide a safe, comfortable, and supportive environment for these individuals is life changing. Not only do the residents have the opportunity to work with on-site support services and property management staff to stabilize their health and income but they also have the peace of mind of having a place to call home.

Providing a permanent home opens a world of opportunities for individuals that were formerly homeless. For example, I recently met a resident that is reuniting with his family that he hasn’t seen since the time he became homeless 12 years ago. He now has a place that he is proud to have his family visit and is working on rebuilding these relationships. Permanent supportive housing is a proven, permanent solution to homelessness and provides residents with the opportunity to enjoy the present and look forward to their future.

Not only are we providing a solution to homelessness but we are incorporating environmentally responsible design features into our apartment communities. Virginia Supportive Housing is designing buildings that reduce the impact on the environment by incorporating low-flow showerheads and toilets, Energy Star appliances and windows, mini-split HVAC system with programmable thermostats in each unit, and permeable pavers. The buildings have also started incorporating a solar thermal hot water system and a solar PV array to off-set the buildings electrical load. Housing Development staff also work with communities to get input on the design and siting of developments to ensure that the buildings are designed to blend in with the community and be located near public transportation, shopping, etc. to allow for greater independence. We constantly strive to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings and have been able to significantly reduce our impact on the environment while improving the quality of life for the residents.

At Virginia Supportive Housing I get to be a part of something much bigger than myself. I get to meet some really amazing residents that inspire me with their resilience. I also have the opportunity to work with our partners in the community that are equally passionate about ending homelessness. Though the employees at Virginia Supportive Housing all have different backgrounds and provide different services within the agency, we all have one thing in common and that is the desire to end homelessness. Virginia Supportive Housing works to improve communities and the lives of our residents but in the end we all benefit from our work because a career is more rewarding when you are truly inspired by the mission that you are serving.

Not all disabilities are created equal

Posted on August 3, 2010

On July 26th, there was a celebration at the White House to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the passing of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), which for the first time protected the rights of people with physical and mental disabilities, and prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, public services and public accommodations

For those of you who don’t know, I am legally blind.  While I don’t consider myself disabled in the full sense of the word, I can get accommodations under the ADA.  However, since my handicap is physical it does not have nearly the stigma as mental illness.

As a matter of fact, I would venture to guess that many people don’t know that people with mental illness are covered under the ADA.  Working at Virginia Supportive Housing has taught me that people with mental illness are discriminated against in housing and employment more often than physically disabled people and many times their disability is far more debilitating.  People with serious mental illness often become homeless because of their disability and have a very difficult time getting into and staying in permanent housing.  It is estimated that nationally 20 to 25% of individuals experiencing homelessness have a serous mental illness.

At VSH, we are successful at helping people with mental illness obtain and maintain permanent housing because of the clinical nature of the services we provide.  We have seen many people whose lives have been transformed through patient and consistent services that are available to them, in some cases 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Last week, I was especially heartened to see that Nathanial Ayers performed in front of President Obama at the commemoration of the ADA.  I was glad to see that Mr. Ayers was still doing well.  Mr. Ayers is a musician who was homeless for many years due to his mental illness.  He was befriended by Steve Lopez, a journalist with the Los Angeles Times who wrote a book, The Soloist, that eventually became a movie.  Mr. Lopez and a nonprofit supportive housing provider took the time to work with Mr. Ayers and get him into permanent housing where he is living with his disability with respect and dignity.  Another success story!

But there are still a lot of people out there who are disabled due to mental illness who still need compassion, respect and a place to live.  I hope all of us continue to work hard to make sure that persons with mental illness are afforded the same opportunities and rights that Mr. Ayers received so that in 20 years when we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the ADA there are many more success stories.

Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness

Posted on June 29, 2010

Last week, the federal government unveiled its very first strategic plan to confront the problem of homelessness in the US on an unprecedented scale. The new plan, called Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, identifies four key goals: ending chronic homelessness in five years; preventing and ending homelessness among veterans in five years; preventing and ending family homelessness in ten years; and setting a path to ending all types of homelessness.

Strategic collaboration is the key to the successful accomplishment of these goals. Spearheaded by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the federal plan outlines an ambitious interagency collaboration that involves the active participation of nineteen federal housing, health, education, and human services agencies.

According to the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness (VCEH), the federal plan “provides an excellent framework to guide Virginia’s efforts to align strategies and resources to bring us closer to the day when no Virginian will experience homelessness….The critical component to preventing and ending homelessness…is putting in place a system to prevent homelessness before it occurs and end homelessness as quickly as possible.”

Alice Tousignant, CEO of Virginia Supportive Housing, agrees. “While the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness seems a bit short on specifics, I am very encouraged by the overall effort and am particularly pleased with the Plan’s six Core Values which are right on target.  I have made similar statements many times recently.  They are:

“As VCEH emphasized, collaboration is critical…Here in the Greater Richmond area, we have Homeward and in South Hampton Roads, there are similar efforts being coordinated by The Planning Council. If all of us as a community embrace these six core values in our approach to prevent and end homelessness, we indeed can make a real difference.”

In their own words…the Cloverleaf Community Garden

Posted on June 14, 2010

In December 2009, VSH received a generous grant from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation to install a community garden at our Cloverleaf property in Virginia Beach. This exciting project will serve as a pilot for gardens at other VSH properties and will be jointly maintained by Cloverleaf tenants and volunteers.

Community gardens provide a lot more than fresh produce. Here is just a sampling of what the garden has meant to the tenants…

“For me it touches my heart…To be in difficult life turmoil, and homeless…we at Cloverleaf share that common reality…the garden has been a bonding experience of all involved. We all face trials sometimes in life and knowing others truly care…gives each of us [a] new and healthier prospective on life…” – Nancy

“We now have the ability to produce our own flowers and vegetables. Which I feel is very rewarding and a blessing.” -Robin

“I learned a little more about planting seeds, plant[ing] different type[s] of flowers and vegetables. I learn[ed] to eat healthier where I lost 15 lbs and my diabetes is under control, what a great thing.”  – Tyanna

“Community living can be difficult at times, but the garden is a tranquil and therapeutic place, and helps when I’m feeling down or overwhelmed. Each day I am excited to go out to my garden plot and I’m so amazed at how well the plants are thriving.” – Mary

To learn more about the Cloverleaf Community Garden, visit VSH’s Facebook page.

Partners In The Fight To End Homelessness

Posted on May 25, 2010

The collaborative efforts of Virginia Supportive Housing and the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness provide a perfect illustration of how agencies that are focused on the same issue can align strategies and complement each other’s strengths to bring about real change.

The mission of the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness is to prevent and end homelessness in the Commonwealth of Virginia through community collaboration, capacity building, education and advocacy. Although it is not a direct service provider, its work in the areas of statewide research, data collection, policy development, and resource mobilization is critical to the work of Virginia Supportive Housing.

Virginia Supportive Housing’s mission is to provide permanent solutions to homelessness using an integrated approach that combines permanent housing and support services. As a direct service provider, VSH has a “ground-level” perspective of the problem of homelessness which might seem at odds with VCEH’s more abstract perspective. However, neither agency could achieve its mission in the community without the other, and together the two agencies have helped to transform the state’s response to homelessness in many ways.

One of VCEH’s top priorities for 2010 is to increase investment in permanent supportive housing for homeless people with disabilities, ex-offenders, and veterans by conducting a needs assessment and developing an action plan. This priority reflects not just a regional trend (as articulated in Richmond’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness), but also a nationwide shift in focus toward the integrated model utilized with such success by VSH.

By quantifying VSH’s successes in the form of measurable data, VCEH can make pragmatic recommendations borne out by practice. And by implementing evidence-based practices supported by research, VSH can strengthen the case for permanent supportive housing. In this way, the priorities of both agencies can be met in a way that is both mutually beneficial and deeply validating.

For more than two decades, VSH and VCEH have been joining forces in the regional fight to permanently end homelessness. It is collaborations like these that will ultimately put an end to a problem that has plagued our communities for far too long. VSH and VCEH agree – the time to end homelessness is now.

VCEH can’t achieve its mission without you. To support the effort to end homelessness in the Commonwealth of Virginia, become a VCEH member today!

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