Hearts and Bricks, Minds and Mortar

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Earlier this year, the Virginia Beach City Council adopted a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness in Virginia's largest city. "Homelessness probably won't end in 10 years in Hampton Roads," editorialized The Virginian Pilot, but the plan showed "both momentum and promise."

"Momentum," in fact, might be what best characterizes the City's efforts.

Last year, for example, the City joined with the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth to transform, with HUD's support, a former Nehi bottling plant into a 60-unit apartment building providing permanent, supportive housing, the first such residence, The Pilot noted, "in the nation to be financed and supported by more than one city."

Indeed, the first facility was such a success that Virginia Supportive Housing, the project sponsor, and the three cities have a second facility � Cloverleaf Apartments - in the works and receive additional support from a fourth city, Chesapeake. Closing is expected this fall.

A similar success story is being written by the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center. Four years ago, it had secured funding from HUD, the City's Department of Housing and Neighborhood Preservation and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to build an 8-unit resident for homeless people with disabilities. But then word came that the Department of Veterans Affairs had awarded the Center funds for 14 units for 14 homeless veterans. With grants from the City, the Beazley and Norfolk foundations and The Virginian Pilot enough property now has been bought to build � with help from the Tidewater Builders Association Youthbuild program - a facility that serving both populations.

"This has been," said Dick Powell, director of the Outreach Center, "an amazing experience."

Bricks and mortars, of course, are critical to the success of any plan to address homelessness. But so too are hearts and minds. Hearts and minds of the sort, for example, found among congregants of the Virginia Beach United Methodist Church.

According to The Pilot, there are more than 60 homeless families with children" in Virginia Beach and, last year, "more than 500 students" in the public schools "were considered homeless." The Church and City want to make sure these families have the permanent housing they need.

That's why they've partnered to form "Homes for Children," a program, explained Charlie Greiner of the Church, to "act as a liaison between needy families and landlords, helping to broker leases and assuring property owners that their new tenants will pay the rent." Helping to cement those relationships will be the City's federally-funded rental security deposit program which helps families with the first month's rent and utility deposits.

"You can have plans and more plans, projects and more projects," commented Andy Friedman, Director of the Department of Housing and Neighborhood Preservation. "But to make them work you need people who'll roll up their sleeves, work together and not stop until the job gets done. Virginia Beach is fortunate, I'm pleased to say, to have these kind of people in abundance."

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