Coordinated response: Two veterans’ stories of struggle and hope

On September 27, Kelly and I attended a conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and co-sponsored by Council of Community Services, Homeward, The Planning Council, Project HOPE, Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, Virginia Department of Veterans’ Services, and Commonwealth of Virginia – Governor’s Office.  The conference was titled Collaborative Impact: The Case for Reducing Homelessness.

One of the highlights of the conference for me was the session on “The Voice of the Veteran.”  We heard from two formerly homeless veterans.  Both had compelling but very different stories to tell.

A young woman named Samantha spoke of how abandoned she’d felt by the military after she was discharged and the difficulties she experienced as a newly single mother.  She finally exited homelessness through a combination of new housing-focused services for homeless veterans and the support of family members at critical points.

Earl, a Vietnam veteran, talked about his efforts to get help for mental health problems. His exit to stable housing came through a partnership between The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veteran’s Administration.

In both cases, these formerly homeless veterans were trying to get help and encountering difficulties like being asked to leave a shelter because of anger issues or not getting needed treatment.  Stably housed now, their stories and struggles provide further motivation for all working to end homelessness, for veterans and everyone affected by it.

I’ll be the first person to say that the numbers are important.  Hearing from these veterans reminded me that no one can do this work alone and that our numbers help to tell the stories of people like Samantha and Earl.  It takes hearing from people experiencing homelessness, service providers, experts, and business leaders to ensure that when our neighbors lose their housing, we have a coordinated response that minimizes their housing instability and enables them to share their hopeful stories.

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Students fighting homelessness: Reflections from a Homeward intern

VCU and VUU students started their fall semester yesterday, beginning another year balancing classes, clubs, internships, jobs, and more.  For Homeward, this means engaging college students in ending homelessness through volunteerism, internships, class projects, and homelessness education.  We love that students take the time to learn about and get involved with homeless services in greater Richmond.

One of those amazing students is our summer communications intern, Paris Jackson.  She helped us on numerous projects and her energy light up our office and events.  Below, she shares a little about her experience at Homeward.

When I began applying for summer internships, I had the desire to work for a huge event planning firm or a radio station.  My plans changed when I saw an ad for a summer internship with Homeward, the regional planning and coordinating organization for homeless services in Richmond, Virginia. Even though I had no education on homelessness, other than seeing people on street corners around the city, I was immediately intrigued by their mission to end homelessness in RVA.

Once I landed the internship, I was thrilled at the opportunity gain new skills and experiences within the field of public relations, as well as learn more about the issues surrounding homelessness. I started my internship just in time to attend Homeward’s annual conference on Best Practices to Prevent and End Homelessness. While at the conference, I attended sessions and learned about many different programs and partnerships working to end homelessness in the Richmond community.  I gained a whole new perspective about homelessness, as well as a better understanding of the importance of my work as a Homeward intern.

Over the next eight weeks, I updated social media outlets, designed flyers, produced videos, solicited in-kind donations, met with local PR practitioners, and helped with the summer Point-in-Time Count.  On my last day, I participated in the Point-In-Time Count as a survey volunteer at St. Paul’s Episcopal’ s lunch and First Baptist’s dinner.  It was powerful to see so many organizations and volunteers take time out of their schedules to connect with clients.  I had the opportunity to survey and learn from five community members experiencing housing crisis.  This event was such a humbling experience for me, because I realized homelessness affects a diverse group of men, women and children – and at any point could affect any one of us.

My time with Homeward was short, but it opened my eyes to the importance of ending homelessness.  I learned that communications serves as an important tool in ending homelessness, building relationships between those in need, helping organizations, and the larger community.  Once the community is made aware of the problem and its solution, people are more likely to act.  As I take the next steps in my career, I plan to act by volunteering my communications expertise to help with this issue.

If you are a college student looking for research on homelessness, or if you are ready to dive in by volunteering or interning with Homeward, please contact Erika Schmale at eschmale@homewardva.org.  We would love to hear from you!

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Behind the Scenes: Winners’ Edition with the F.A.R.T.S

Homeward’s annual Conference on Best Practices to Prevent and End Homelessness highlight innovative programming from around the country working to prevent and end homelessness. During the conference, Homeward recognizes members of the homeless services community for outstanding achievement through the Trends and Innovations Awards.

To get to know our 2013 Trends and Innovations Awards Winners, we are dedicating several weeks to interviews with the winners.

This week, we are featuring the Furniture and Restoration Team of Specialists (F.A.R.T.S).  This team won the Bon Secours Outstanding Community Partner Award for their commitment to addressing the needs of people experiencing homelessness.  The F.A.R.T.S. volunteer weekly at CARITAS Furniture Bank building, repairing, and refinishing furniture for households in need of basic necessities.

Video Interview – Part One:

Video Interview – Part Two:

The interviews were filmed and edited by our summer PR Intern, Paris Jackson.  Paris – thanks for all your hard work this summer!

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Behind the Scenes: Winners’ Edition with Greg Johnson

Homeward’s annual Conference on Best Practices to Prevent and End Homelessness highlights innovative programming from around the country working to prevent and end homelessness. During the conference, Homeward recognizes members of the homeless services community for outstanding achievement through the Trends and Innovations Awards.

To get to know our 2013 Trends and Innovations Awards Winners, we are dedicating the next few weeks to interviews with the winners.

This week, we are featuring Greg Johnson, Maintenance Supervisor at HomeAgain.  Greg is the winner of the Steve Neathery award, which is given to someone who overcame homelessness and now contributes to the ability of others to make the same transition.  Greg has over 12 years of stellar performance at HomeAgain and has been a homeowner since 2008.

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What award did you receive & what does it mean to you?

“The Steve Neathery Award – How I was able to overcome challenges with substance abuse and with being unemployed and many more barriers in my life.”

Out of all the outstanding work you have done this past year, what experience has made the biggest impact?

“Giving back to my community and working directly with the homeless population.”

What is your favorite part about your job/volunteer work?

“Being able to motivate an individual and they give a smile or handshake back.”

What made you want to be involved in ending homelessness?

“I want people to know how I successfully overcame homelessness with lots of support from people from various agencies.”

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Behind The Scenes: Winners’ Edition with Natalie May

Homeward’s annual Conference on Best Practices to Prevent and End Homelessness highlight innovative programming from around the country working to prevent and end homelessness. During the conference, Homeward recognizes members of the homeless services community for outstanding achievement through the Trends and Innovations Awards.

To get to know our 2013 Trends and Innovations Awards Winners, we are dedicating the next few weeks to interviews with the winners.

This week, we are featuring Natalie May, Outstanding Volunteer Award winner for her work with Change the World RVA ministry.

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What award did you receive & what does it mean to you?

“I received the Outstanding Volunteer award, but I’m a little embarrassed by it.  As I said at the luncheon, I’m just the volunteer that you can see – there are dozens of other volunteers in our ministry who are giving their time to help homeless high school and college students, too.  We have volunteer drivers, tutors, mentors, host families, cooks, people who donate money and items for the food and hygiene pantries in the schools, fund raising volunteers – it’s definitely not just me.  Not at all.  Still, I am really happy to draw attention to our ministry, Change the World RVA, and the amazing students in our community who need our support in order to succeed in school and life.”

Out of all the outstanding work you have done this past year, what experience has made the biggest impact?

“The biggest impact, I think, has been that we have managed to build relationships between homeless high school and college students and caring adults in the Richmond community.  Our ministry isn’t just about raising money or even collecting items for food pantries – although we certainly need both!  What we’re really about is getting adults in the community to actually meet our students – this usually happens when they give them a ride somewhere, but it also happens in the after school program and the summer college prep program and other places.  Once people meet our students, they fall in love with them.  They want to help them.  They want to become a caring person in their life.  They reach out in ways they never dreamed of.  It is so cool to watch!  And I think soon we’ll see these adults join together to advocate for systemic change in areas such as public transportation and quality public education.  Suddenly these issues aren’t something that affects some anonymous person or group of people; they affect a young person that they really care about.  Members of my church couldn’t have cared less about public transportation a year ago.  But after trying to help students find jobs for the past year, we all see the impact that inadequate transportation has on their welfare, self-esteem, and ability to succeed and become independent.  My hope is that we will continue to foster relationships that will ultimately result in social change.”

What is your favorite part about your job/volunteer work?

I have loved getting to know people in different congregations and the people in the homeless services community that I never knew before.  But my favorite part is just hanging out with our students.  When you get a group of them together for a field trip, meal, or a service project, they are so funny and smart and kind.  There have been days when I’ve felt tired or overwhelmed, and after I’ve spent 5 or 10 minutes with our students, I am completely energized again.”

What made you want to be involved in ending homelessness?

“That’s funny.  I had absolutely no intention of being involved in ending homelessness!  But I met a student, Elaine Williams, and I immediately cared about her and wanted to be helpful.  Homelessness isn’t a problem like any other, I don’t think.  You can’t isolate ways to help and say, “I am going to do this one thing” to help.  You can’t just buy a kid a bus pass and be done with it.  You can’t even just offer academic support.  If a student doesn’t have a safe place to live and a network of caring adults, none of the other things you might do to help really matter.  It’s the same with success in college, which is where we thought we were headed with all this.  You can’t just help a student move into the dorm and say, “Have a great year!”  You need to be there to help them get over the bumps in the road that could derail a student’s dreams of finishing college.  Prior to moving into the dorm, you need to help them with applications and paperwork and photo IDs and college visits and more paperwork.  Then you really have to think about whether or not our schools are preparing them academically for college (they’re not).  Then you need to figure out what we as a community can do to solve that problem.  Homelessness seems so huge, but you have to start somewhere, I guess.”

What was your favorite part of the Best Practices conference this year & why?

“It was my first conference, and I enjoyed meeting people.  I also did what I was told by Stevie [Toepke, from The Frontier Project, who spoke at the morning plenary at the conference.]   I made some “forced connections” that generated a few good ideas, I think.  What really blew me away was that the people who do this work for a living were the first to ask how they could volunteer to help our students!  Amazing.  I appreciated the opportunity to attend and I look forward to next year.”

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Decreases in Homelessness among Veterans and Families

Our last post revealed that 999 people in the region are experiencing homelessness which reflects a 13.2% decrease from the peak in January 2009.  This year’s point-in-time count included a record low number of children living in homeless shelters and a 31.5% decrease in the number of veterans living in shelters or on the streets of our region.  These decreases reaffirm that our region’s service providers respond with compassion and professionalism to address homelessness, especially among our most vulnerable neighbors and our military veterans.

Specific highlights from January 2013 point-in-time count on children and veterans experiencing homelessness including:

Children

  • 114 children were counted in the one-day homeless count. This is the lowest number of children living in shelters since Homeward and our partners began counting in 1999.
  • 9.1% of homeless persons have children living with them.
  • In spite of success in reducing the number of children staying in shelters, area schools report that there are increased numbers of children living with friends and family, in hotels/motels, and in other inadequate housing situations.

Veterans

  • 35.1% of veterans reported that they served in combat.  67.0% were honorably discharged, and 22.0% received a general discharge. 
  • Around half served between 1972-1982, with the other half serving between 1983 -2013.

We are encouraged by the decreases we are measuring, but we know there is more work to do to improve housing stability for our neighbors.  By keeping our focus on the needs expressed in this survey, we can reduce the number of people in a housing crisis in our community and help those who lose their housing to regain stability as quickly as possible.

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Winter Count Reflects Continued Gains in Fight to End Homelessness

Regional collaborations among homeless service providers and the emphasis on best practices to serve homeless families are making a real difference for our neighbors.  

January 24th marked our 15th Winter Point-in-Time Count; a twice-annual census where we count the number of people staying in homeless shelters or sleeping outdoors.  Preliminary results reveal 999 people in the region experiencing homelessness on the 24th.  This number reflects a 4.1% decrease in the number of people overall in shelters or on the streets, with a 13.0% decrease in the number of children staying in homeless shelters in our region, from January 2012 to January 2013. The number of individuals sleeping outdoors or staying in a hypothermia shelter increased from January 2012 to January 2013, but still remained 9.2% below the peak of street homelessness in January 2009.

January 2013 Point-In-Time Count
OVERALL POPULATION
Total point-in-time 999
Total children in Point-in-time count 114
UNSHELTERED POPULATION
Unsheltered 170
SHELTERED POPULATION
Emergency Shelter: unaccompanied adults 222
Emergency Shelter: persons in families (incl. children) 89
Transitional Shelter: unaccompanied adults 423
Transitional Shelter: persons in families (incl. children) 95

 What do these numbers mean for our community?

For families:  Our regional homeless services network has been implementing proven best practices, such as rapid re-housing for homeless families.  The reduction in the number of children living in shelters is proof that this approach works.  However, our partners in prevention programs and in the local school systems have seen increases in the number of children and families at risk of homelessness.  We are encouraged from our recent reductions that we will be able to ensure that all of our neighbors have a safe, affordable, and stable place to live.

For individuals sleeping outdoors: With the coldest single day count since the start of our Ten Year Plan, we measured an increase in the number of people in a hypothermia shelter or in makeshift encampments in the region.  We are committed to continuing to help people get off the streets through targeting permanent supportive housing resources and coordinating outreach efforts in the region.

In addition to performing a count of people experiencing homelessness, individuals also completed a detailed survey conducted by local volunteers.  Answers to the 70-question survey are used to obtain specific information on how to better respond to the issue of homelessness. Check back in March for comprehensive findings from the count.

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