Housing First looks to alter the traditional practice of moving homeless people into crowded shelters and transitional housing before locating permanent housing.
Since 2009, an effort in southeastern Virginia and the rest of the United States has focused on making “homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring,” stays Suzanne Puryear, president of The Planning Council and a Hampton Roads Community Foundation board member.
The shift benefits both clients and shelters. Quickly securing permanent housing and providing services to help clients settle into stable lives, frees space in homeless shelters for emergency cases and lets agencies help more people. The average stay in Judeo-Christian OutreachCenter’s shelter in Virginia Beach has dropped from six months to 66 days, says Todd A.J. Walker, executive director of JCOC. This allows the nonprofit to serve 100 more people a year.
Samaritan House reports similar trends at its Virginia Beach family shelter, which like the JCOC has received Hampton Roads Community Foundation grants to help implement Housing First strategies.
“Our clients are moving out of our shelters in 40 days now instead of 60. It’s about 30 percent less expensive for us,” says Angela Kellam, Samaritan House executive director.
Long-term success has improved with 86 percent of clients placed in permanent housing “still doing well after 24 months.” Community foundation funding has helped nonprofits leverage other resources. Samaritan House recently parlayed a $175,000 foundation grant into six national and state awards totaling $450,000, Kellam says.
Hampton Road Community Foundation grants have also helped boost the region’s supply of low-rent housing. Virginia Supportive Housing has built five studio apartment complexes in Hampton Roads that provide homes for formerly homeless citizens. The Richmond-based nonprofit is planning a sixth complex in the region.
“We couldn’t have done it without the foundation,” says Allison Bogdanovic, executive director. “We never had a partner with such a commitment to our work.”
“In all aspects, the foundation has been a critical player,” observes Andrew M. Friedman, director of Virginia Beach’s Department of Housing and Neighborhood Preservation. A foundation grant paid for a 2013 Virginia Beach housing crisis response study that led to positive changes. James Lewis, a former Judeo Christian Outreach Center client, knows personally the results of such efforts. The formerly homeless man now lives in a comfortable home and says: “The oars are there for me, and there are no holes in the boat,” he says. “Now I can get across the river.”