Group hopes to take on homeless issues

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Efforts are under way to ease the growing problems of chronic homelessness in Western Tidewater.

The Suffolk Shelter for the Homeless last Thursday hosted the first reorganization meeting of the Western Tidewater Continuum of Care Council. The council’s goal is to coordinate services for the homeless and to address the issues of homeless prevention, homelessness, transitional housing and permanent housing.

Once the council has met regularly for 12 months and developed a long-term plan dealing with homeless issues, it will become eligible for increased funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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The council was originally formed in March 2002 by the HOME Consortium, a group of several localities created in the late 1990s to qualify for federal housing monies. In October, HUD stripped the consortium – led by the city of Suffolk – of its anticipated $500,000 allocation for 2005 because it has stockpiled too much money in recent years.

The homeless shelter is acting as the lead agency for the council.

&uot;We understand that the city does not have the time or resources to monitor properly this program,&uot; said Terry Miller, the shelter’s executive director. &uot;Its partnership, however, is invaluable and the most critical element in the success of the WTCCC.

&uot;It is clear the city is committed to helping us develop the continuum.&uot;

The shelter submitted a HUD Continuum of Care application this past July, in order to receive the agency’s feedback that will increase chances of funding subsequent applications, Miller said.

Robert Jennings, a public trust specialist from the Richmond HUD office who attended the meeting, distributed packets of information that included guidelines for Continuum-of-Care development, a HUD-funded Continuum of Care application, and sources of leverage or match funds.

According to Jennings, HUD’s focus is on chronic homelessness – people who have had several episodes of homelessness in a three-year period or who live in a place not fit for human habitation, such as a vehicle.

A large percentage of people who have come to the Suffolk shelter over the past eight months qualify as chronically homeless, Miller said.

The situation is far more prevalent than people realize, said Andrea Fowler, the shelter’s executive assistant.

&uot;You don’t see a lot of people living on the streets in Suffolk,&uot; she said. &uot;But what people also don’t see are the number of people who jump from house to house every few months because they can’t keep up with the rent.

&uot;We are seeing a lot more of that than we use to.&uot;

Homelessness tends to be cyclical, Fowler said. For example, a person may get a job, lose it after a few months and then end up homeless.

&uot;That happens quite a lot,&uot; she continued. &uot;Self-esteem is a huge issue that …contributes to their not being able to maintain in a world that requires a lot of money.&uot;

Besides Miller, Fowler and Jennings, the meeting was attended by Justin Brooks, a city representative; Lucinda Hargrove, from the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority; Val Livingston, Genieve Shelter; Barbara Wiggins, Providential Credit Care Counseling in Smithfield; Vicki Moody, Isle of Wight Social Services; and Marie Scott, the Franklin Department of Social Services.

The council’s next meeting is at 10 a.m. Jan. 13 at the shelter. For more information or directions, call 934-1353.