Homeless take to street while city looks for solutions


According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a chronically homeless person is “an unaccompanied disabled individual who has been continuously homeless for over one year.” There are certainly some of those in our area, people who have bottomed out for one reason or another and cannot get back up on their own. For them, a solution is on the way.

This man, who didn’t want his name used, is a former Hope Community Center resident now relegated to the streets.
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“We know how to end chronic homelessness,” said PACEM’s Executive Director Dave Norris (who is also city mayor), kicking off a meeting on Single Room Occupancy (SRO) housing on May 27. He was followed by Candice Streett, a representative from Virginia Supportive Housing (VSH) who has built similar projects in Richmond and the Virginia Beach area. As she told it, SROs are essentially a panacea—“a proven, permanent solution”—for the homeless. In VSH’s facilities, up to 60 people live in supervised housing. The new residents pay a minimum of $50 a month and normally 30 percent of their income, as they are immediately immersed in services that local agencies have to offer.

“A shelter—as important as it is—is not a permanent solution,” says Peter Loach of the Piedmont Housing Authority. “A lot of other problems can be tackled, but if they’re spending most of their day just trying to find a place to sleep, how are they going to get a job? How are they going to get counseling?”

Loach and Norris are currently in the process of finding a site for Charlottesville’s proposed SRO. Once a site is found, VSH can go after the hundreds of thousands in federal money needed to operate such a facility. In Richmond, a dilapidated former brewery and a flea-bag motel were changed into deluxe housing.

“We could probably use a third one,” Streett admitted, explaining that VSH works with an evening shelter in Richmond to provide it with names of potential residents, many who stay for up to three or four years.

Strange coincidence then that the SRO meeting preceded the permanent closing of the Hope Community Center’s homeless evening shelter by just one day.

On the night of May 28, around 40 homeless people spent their last night at Hope’s shelter in grand style. Surrounded by well-wishers (mostly from Covenant church as well as a UVA student group) who dished out hot dogs and hamburgers, the soon-to-be homeless cursed the city for shutting them down (“They suffer from rectal cranium inversion,” said one man laughing) and wondered about the availability of SROs. If a site is found by the end of this summer, then the facility could be open within two years.

That was small consolation for those about to sleep out on the streets, many who would not fit HUD’s definition for the chronically homeless anyway. Instead, they are chronically poor, temporarily homeless, and now without shelter.

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