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.
Posted on February 16, 2010
I have asked Katie VanArnam, VSH’s Director of Housing Access Programs, to write this week’s blog. Katie is a licensed clinical social worker with more than 10 years of experience providing direct services and administrative functions in a variety of non-profit and Government agencies. She holds an MSW degree from Virginia Commonwealth University with a dual concentration in Clinical Services and Administration. Katie directs the A Place To Start program along with two other housing programs. Thanks, Alice
I recently had the opportunity to see some friends from high school. It had been many years since I had seen these ladies and we have all gone our different ways in life. One is a school teacher, one a lawyer, one is a successful business woman and then there is me, the social worker.
After a few days of reacquainting ourselves, we started talking about our chosen professions and the challenges we face on a daily basis. I gave a brief synopsis of the job I do and those who receive services from the programs I oversee. My three friends listened intently, and then one asked, “What do you do about the people who just choose to be homeless? Why don’t they get help?” The question was asked in a very “innocent” fashion and my friend was simply trying to get a better understanding of those I serve.
In formulating my response, it occurred to me that no one really chooses to be homeless. In some cases, people make choices that contribute to their housing crisis, often resulting in the loss of their housing. However, I do not believe that these people are really choosing to be homeless.
Encarta Dictionary defines “choosing” as deciding among a range of options or making a deliberate decision. In the majority of cases, people who have fallen into homelessness do not have a range of options. While the causes of homelessness are many, the solutions are numbered. A “choice” may include entering the shelter system, finding new affordable housing or living on the streets.
While the shelter system in Richmond has come a long way, this system is not an ideal option for many experiencing homelessness. The rules, expectations, communal living situation and schedules can be very difficult to manage. This can be especially true for those who are suffering from an active addiction, have a physical disability, have male teenage children and/or are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness. Shelter is not a choice for everyone.
Many believe … ” if they would just get a job, they could afford housing”. In Richmond, the fair market rent (a rent that is considered to be “fair” and average for a unit) for a one bedroom unit is $832. This means that a single individual who is working full time and earning minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) would have to pay about 90 percent of their take-home pay just to cover the cost of rent. Rent does not include any other costs or expenses. According to Homeward, the region’s coordinating body for homeless services, 25.8 percent of the homeless population IS currently working; 50 percent of these employed individuals are working full time.
What happens when “just getting a job” is not a choice? The fairly recent economic downturn has left a considerable amount of the American population unemployed, making the job market even more competitive. Many people who are homeless have been forced into “choosing” to live on the streets, “choosing” to live in cars and “choosing” to sleep in abandoned buildings and on park benches. They have simply “chosen” from the only option they were given.
As I explained this to my friend, I could see the realization in her face. The next time you see someone experiencing homelessness, and you will see them if you choose to look, ask yourself, what choice did they have?
Posted on August 5, 2009
Last week I got a call from a friend who has just become the latest victim of the economic crisis. The business she had worked for abruptly closed its doors leaving hundreds of people without jobs. With one out of ten people unemployed here in Richmond and in South Hampton Roads, it’s rough out there.
But my friend has a college degree, lots of marketable skills and a great work history. Since her husband works, she also won’t be hurt too severely if she has to collect unemployment for awhile.
It could be worse. What if she hadn’t graduated college or even high school? What if she lacked marketable skills and a solid work history? What if she had a history of homelessness, possibly a criminal background and bad or no credit? “Rough” wouldn’t begin to describe her chances of finding a job.
If you were an employer looking for employees, would you hire someone like my friend, or would you hire someone who has none of her favorable attributes? What is happening right now is that people who are homeless, or those who are stably housed but living on the edge, are getting pushed out of the very low end jobs they normally are able to find.
We are seeing this with individuals and families that live in Virginia Supportive Housing properties. A few VSH residents had steady jobs at restaurants, but business slowed down and they lost their jobs. Another resident’s time was cut from thirty-two hours a week to just six. She was told, “There are just too many people competing for work.”
We have many residents looking to work any type of job. If they are lucky enough to find something, it may be only a few hours a week; not even enough to pay our minimum rent of $50 per month, especially after paying bus fare to get there and back. Those “odd jobs” our folks used to find, such as detailing cars or doing minor home repairs, are no longer available. When is the last time you saw a line outside a day labor place?
Our goal is to keep people stably housed, which is very difficult these days. Our support services staff spends much of their time helping our residents scrape up enough money to pay rent by going to congregations or asking for help at crisis assistance programs like ACTS, Salvation Army, and the Homeless Prevention Program in Norfolk. We even have several residents giving blood every week to make ends meet!
We are hoping that the economy will turn around soon and that the Stimulus funding is distributed quickly. In the meantime, we continue to rely on the generosity of the public to help keep our residents stably housed. It’s rough out there, especially for those at the bottom.