Off the streets: Spring has sprung for homeless housing in the city

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Kaki Dimock, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless, is finding housing for the homeless. Photo Ashley Twiggs Kaki Dimock, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless, is finding housing for the homeless. Photo Ashley Twiggs

This month Charlottesville will move one step closer to eliminating homelessness as a coalition of service providers begins to house at least 33 of the most critically homeless people in the area.

The initiative is being funded in part by $255,000 from the city and has three main components that complement a bevy of new local housing practices aimed at making homelessness as brief an experience as possible.

The main prong of the measures being unrolled this month is called Spring for Housing and is being spearheaded by the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless (TJACH). Working with local landlords and service providers, TJACH has carefully selected 21 homeless people who are considered in greatest need based on assessments of their physical, mental and substance abuse issues and barriers to finding housing. Using $105,000 from the city, TJACH will pay their rent—16 people will receive subsidies for three to six months, and five people will get subsidies for up to one year, said TJACH executive director Kaki Dimock.

Spring for Housing, or “The Surge” as people involved in the initiative refer to it, emerged as a way to continue housing some of the more than 100 homeless people who use the overnight shelters operated by People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry (PACEM) from October to March, said Mike Murphy, the city’s director of human services and vice chair of TJACH.

“If we successfully house people in PACEM, which is a great program, but all of them return to homelessness at the end, it’s good that they were safe during the most dangerous and coldest season, but we want certainly to be looking to end their homelessness,” said Murphy. “That’s what The Surge is all about.”

Dimock said she’s in “robust conversation” with local landlords to secure 17 housing units that have thus far been identified as possibilities for the 21 people. Myriad other service providers are helping as well. The Salvation Army has donated at least eight beds, the Red Roof Inn is donating blankets, On Our Own is donating bowls and plates for each household, PACEM is donating pillows, and a registry has been created at Bed Bath & Beyond so the public can help buy other move-in supplies like paper towels, sponges, silverware and cups. TJACH is also planning a fund and food drive to ensure the newly housed have a stock of food in their cupboards and refrigerators when they move in.

The Spring for Housing initiative is part of a larger plan known as Housing First, which operates around the idea that to eliminate homelessness, people need to be housed before other issues including addiction and mental illness can be addressed. As part of that approach, a case manager will be assigned for every two people in the Spring for Housing initiative, said Dimock, offering them a tailor-fitted array of services ranging from job search and financial planning skills to substance abuse and mental health treatment.

The Spring for Housing program is working in tandem with several other key components in the city. In 2013 the local nonprofit group Thrive began to administer a state-funded program called Rapid Rehousing, which helps the homeless in Charlottesville find housing, pay their rent for up to two years and access stabilization services. Every three months, people in Rapid Rehousing are reassessed to determine their needs and account for any new streams of income that might reduce their need for public assistance. In 2013-2014, Rapid Rehousing housed 23 people in Charlottesville, and since last July, it has housed 37 people. 

“Rapid Rehousing is intended to be a short-term program that…when implemented well, should be a step towards permanence,” said Dimock.

The second prong being unrolled in Charlottesville this month involves using $150,000 in city funds over the next 54 months to transition five of the low-income units at The Crossings, the 60-unit single room occupancy (SRO) on Preston Avenue, to begin housing five homeless women when the low-income residents currently in them find permanent housing elsewhere. TJACH hopes to house a sixth woman through separate state funding.

The final part of the plan is the addition of six housing units federally funded through Region Ten with a preference for homeless with a history of mental illness. Timing is an issue, however, and Dimock said that while the homeless may be ready to be housed, the apartments at The Crossings and Region Ten’s federal funding may not be ready until later this year. So TJACH is aiming to house those it’s identified by vying for the state’s biennial reallocation of Rapid Rehousing funds awarded to the most successful programs in Virginia.

In January, C-VILLE joined Stephen Hitchcock, who heads The Haven day shelter, as teams of staff and volunteers spread throughout the city to conduct the annual point-in-time survey of homeless people. The survey found that the city’s efforts are working, as the numbers of people living on the streets or in the woods has dropped slightly and the number of people living in transitional or permanent supportive housing has increased significantly (see sidebar).

This means that more people in Charlottesville are housed, fewer people are homeless, and advocates like Dimock are pleased, saying the approach to ending homelessness is starting to pay off.

“We anticipate that there’s always going to be a group who will, sadly, end up in a housing crisis and be unable to sustain their own housing,” said Dimock. “They’re going to need assistance. So the goal is to have zero unsheltered people in the population, to reduce the number of people in the homeless shelters and to ensure the homeless shelter length of stay is very brief and they are moved very quickly into a permanent housing solution.

“Next year we’ll be able to say something a little bit more definitively,” she added, “but I think…this is evidence that our investments are working.”

Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Kaki Dimock is overseeing a new three-pronged approach to ending homelessness in Charlottesville.

By the numbers

A survey of Charlottesville’s homeless conducted in January found improvements in several key measures this year over 2012.

2015  2012

Number living on streets

or in woods               25     27

Number in emergency

shelters   113   125

Number in transitional

housing   47     39

Number in permanent

supportive housing             106     59