For residents of The Crossings, Christmas is a time for thanksgiving

Jen Larimer, property manager at The Crossings, enjoys a moment of levity during a Christmas party for residents and staff held last week. Photo: John Robinson Jen Larimer, property manager at The Crossings, enjoys a moment of levity during a Christmas party for residents and staff held last week. Photo: John Robinson

“This will be the first Christmas I haven’t been on the street in years,” said Shawn Bradley, 42, a Desert Storm veteran who moved into The Crossings last spring. “I basically was homeless, on the streets and in the woods for about four-and-a-half years.”

The Crossings, a housing complex of 60 studio apartments located at the corner of Fourth Street and Preston Avenue, was billed as a crucial part of the solution to the local homeless problem when it opened its doors in March. Half of the 360-square-foot efficiencies are reserved for the area’s chronically homeless, people who have been living on the streets and in shelters for years. The units are mainly funded by housing vouchers from the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, with residents paying 30 percent of their monthly income as rent. The other 30 units are reserved for low-income residents and rented at $525 a month with utilities included.

Bradley, who sported a Santa Claus hat as he worked on arts and crafts in the community lounge during a Christmas party last week, lost his job at Tyco Electronics in Culpeper in 2007 and lived in a tent before moving into his apartment.

“The snow wasn’t that bad,” he said. “When the wind chill got below zero, that was really tough.”

The Crossings is full now. All of the chronically homeless residents that were approved were able to move in by August despite a regulatory funding problem between the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Albemarle County this summer that initially kept nine residents out.

Deborah Hill, 52, who also wore a Santa hat as she enjoyed the holiday festivities and donated food and gifts, spent her nights at PACEM’s homeless shelter this time last year.

“For six years, I had been homeless going from shelter to shelter,” said Hill. “It feels great to wake up in your own bed, your own place. I can come and go as I please. I can cook my own food.”

Like many members of the chronic homeless population, Bradley battled alcoholism for years and was hospitalized from February to April because of his drinking.

“I honestly feel if it hadn’t of been for this place, I would be on the street drinking. I would be dead,” Bradley said.

Since moving into The Crossings, Bradley’s quit drinking and his health has improved dramatically.

“The staff here at The Crossings, these guys are great. Every last one of them,” Bradley said. “I got a good support group here.”

The two full-time case managers at The Crossings work with residents to help them find work, apply for disability, and plan a path toward financial stability. In addition to financial assistance, they also serve as a support network for the residents by helping them with substance abuse or mental health issues, or simply by accompanying them to doctor’s appointments.

Erin Briggs, one of the case managers, said The Crossings has benefited from a groundswell of community support in the form of donations.

“They sometimes just appear out of nowhere, which is wonderful.” Briggs said. “We couldn’t do it without the community support.”

Anne Deery, volunteer coordinator with Virginia Supportive Housing, a Richmond-based nonprofit organization that manages The Crossings, said volunteers are always needed for resident activities like last Wednesday’s holiday party. She said the staff is preparing to install a garden that residents and volunteers will manage together.

For Hill and Bradley, Christmas came early in the form of a place to call home.

“This is the first time I’ve had a place of my own,” said Hill, who became homeless after her husband passed away. “Sometimes, I wake up and say is this really real.”’

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