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Housing program closes gap

Published 9:11pm Saturday, February 2, 2013

Tamika Copeland has long struggled with health problems, each one complicating another like a circle of dominos — diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney failure.

She has no income, so she and her 16-year-old son were living with her mother in a rented home. But when they got word in November they would be evicted, it looked like they might be homeless during the coldest months of the year.

But the bad news came at a good time for Copeland and her son. ForKids, which already operates a rapid re-housing program in Suffolk and Western Tidewater, was kick-starting its permanent supportive housing program, which addresses for the first time what officials say has been a gaping hole in the area’s services for the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.

“Permanent Supportive Housing for chronically disabled families has been a critical missing link in the safety net for homeless families here in Western Tidewater,” ForKids Chief Executive Officer Thaler McCormick wrote in an emailed statement. “It makes a huge difference in our ability to prevent the most fragile families and children from remaining in cyclical homelessness.”

For Copeland and her son, to say the program makes a “huge difference” understates the matter.

“It was like a Christmas miracle,” said Copeland, who got the call on Dec. 31 to tell her she and her son could move in. “This was the best gift I could have gotten. I have a roof over my head, clothes, food. What’s not great about it?”

Families that qualify must have a child in their custody and be currently homeless, and at least one family member must have a diagnosed physical or mental disability.

Housing is leased from a private landlord, and families can stay as long as they have a child in their custody and are fully participating in the program, which addresses needs including financial and mental health counseling, parenting classes and others.

The program became available Nov. 1 and is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Obici Healthcare Foundation, as well as private contributions.

The program is available for up to eight families at a time and currently assists seven families with a combined 11 children, said Bill Young, chief development officer for ForKids. These families are in addition to the 18-family capacity in the rapid re-housing program, which pays for hotel rooms for families while providing them services to help them get back on their feet quickly.

Young said the program not only helps break the cycle of homelessness for a family but also helps the children do better in school, leading to a more stable life for the next generation.

For Copeland, what ForKids has done for her and her son has given them hope.

“Good things still do happen in a bad world,” she said. “You still have a group of people that have a heart for the human race.”

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