2009-04-22 / Front Page

More people with no place to live

Homelessness on the rise
By Gwen Sadler

Photo courtesy of CARITAS
Family Focus at CARITAS is a 24-hour program that offers homeless families shelter and food at area churches.
Economic indicators continue to be grim - unemployment has soared in the past year, and there seems to be no end in sight to the spike in foreclosures. It stands to reason, then, that more people are finding they have no place to live.

Homeward, an organization that researches, reports and coordinates resources for homeless people in the region, released a report last month confirming homelessness is on the rise in Chesterfield, as it is in the rest of the region.

The report, called a "point-intime" count of people who are experiencing homelessness, is compiled by Homeward twice a year in January and July. Results may be compared with the previous report or with the findings from a year before.

"The numbers [of homeless people] have definitely gone up," said Kelly King Horne, executive director of Homeward. "There is an increase overall, but a significant increase in single adults. The demand for emergency shelter is also up."

Photo courtesy of CARITAS
A recent area survey found there were fewer homeless children in January 2009 than there were a year before, but the number is expected to rise again.
The report generally pertains to the entire Richmond region, but Chesterfield numbers are reflected within those results, Horne said. Among the regional findings of the report were a 7.2 percent increase in homelessness over last year, and a 10.8 percent increase in unsheltered people. The demand for emergency shelter in January of this year increased by 26 percent over January 2008. The median length of homelessness is about five months, which has remained consistent over the past year. Of the homeless people surveyed, 7.4

percent said their last permanent housing was in Chesterfield, compared to only 6.3 percent in January 2008.

Horne notes that the number of homeless children has decreased, but attributes the fall to finding emergency housing for families.

That number, she said, is temporary and will increase again.

"People who were just making it have lost jobs and have no support," Horne said. "There are increases in three areas: those who are homeless for the first time, single adults and those who are unsheltered."

Horne said that one-third of those who are homeless for the first time have suffered job loss within the last year.

Anecdotally, the Chesterfield Department of Social Services staff is seeing more people on the brink of losing their homes for the first time, according to Dr. Suzanne Fountain, director of social work.

"We've usually seen people with spotty work histories who are in and out of employment," Fountain said. "Now we're seeing people who've had strong work histories up to now."

"Housing circumstances are less stable," she said. "We're helping more with rent and utility payments."

Recently, a man who is a roofer by trade sought help from the department, probably for the first time, because his employer doesn't have enough work to keep him busy full time. He hasn't been laid off, so he can't collect unemployment.

"I can't say we're seeing an increase in homelessness, but we're certainly seeing an increase in the risk factors," Fountain said.

Transitional programs, such as Congregations around Richmond Involved to Assure Shelter (CARITAS) and Chesterfield/Colonial Heights Alliance for Social Ministry (CCHASM), try to help shelter the homeless. The CARITAS program travels from church to church throughout the Richmond area, including several in Chesterfield, offering a church as shelter and hot meals made and served by volunteers. Each congregation serves a week at a time, and generally volunteers the place and the services once or twice a year. CCHASM can offer emergency help with funds for food or utilities, as well as rent payments, which may stave off homelessness for a time.

Daughters of Zelophehad's (DOZ) group home offers transitional housing for women and children who are experiencing homelessness, usually due to financial problems, relationship trouble or domestic violence, according to Consuelo Staton, program director and administrative coordinator.

"Most [of those in the program] are women in their 20s with children, often more than one child," Staton said. "We're seeing a lot of mothers who are unemployed or underemployed, and we've seen an increase in people who've been evicted from their [rented] homes because the homeowners are in foreclosure."

Staton also reports that they're getting more referrals recently from mental health professionals, and that foster children who've aged out of that system are beginning to come in for help.

Those who are housed at DOZ may stay up to two years, taking advantage of services like career assessments and spiritual guidance while they work on their education and job training.

This transitional housing situation is becoming harder to find. "Group homes are folding because of budget cuts," Staton said. "There's been a shift in the administration of services, with more in-home counseling."

That's hard to pull off if there's no home.

Some financial support is on the way for nonprofits that help the homeless. The Arlington-based Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness recently received $25 million in federal stimulus funds, with $515,089 earmarked for Chesterfield.

In addition, Horne reported that Homeward has received a $100,000 grant from the Community Foundation. The money will be used to begin a "Rapid Re-housing" program, which is a nationally recognized model of service designed to move homeless families out of shelters quickly and into more permanent housing. At the same time, the families will be connected to community-based support services.

Need help?

Daughters of Zelophehad
Chesterfield County Social Services
Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness

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