New shelter model works better

Published 6:38 pm Friday, January 13, 2012

Winter temperatures have finally set in around Suffolk, and public school students likely are hoping for snow days to add to the 23 days off from school they’ll already get between now and Easter break.

But there’s one group of people in Suffolk that dreads the cold weather — homeless people and those who work fighting homelessness.

ForKids, the main group working against that problem in Suffolk, changed its service model last year, saying the old model wasn’t working. Recently, officials there said, the new model has seen good success, with the number of families placed in housing in the first four months about double the same period last year.


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Thaler McCormick, chief executive officer of ForKids, said the old model wasn’t sustainable. The homeless shelter on Finney Avenue was housing families for up to four months while they worked with case managers who helped them address the issues that led to homelessness, whether that was lack of a job, lack of sufficient income, poor budgeting skills or any other problem.

The problem was that people who lived outside of the downtown Suffolk area didn’t want to move away from their children’s schools and their support systems. In fact, Suffolk House sometimes had room to shelter people from outside Western Tidewater, McCormick said, because so few people in Suffolk House’s service area were using its services.

“When families were homeless, they weren’t coming to the downtown shelter, because they didn’t want to relocate out of their communities,” she said.

The new model now gives families assistance for a maximum of 30 days of emergency shelter in area hotels. That way, families can stay closer to their own neighborhoods and be more motivated to do the things they need to do to move into their own housing.

In addition, the new model includes more assistance to keep families in their own homes in the first place and to follow up with all clients for nine months.

The change came just in time to get ahead of new mandates tied to federal funding that emergency shelter assistance be provided for only 30 days. McCormick said ForKids initially was hesitant about the idea of kicking families out after a month, but she said they have found that doing so makes the families more motivated.

Many may have felt dismayed when the organization announced last summer it was changing its strategy for Suffolk. But the results seem to prove it actually is working better, is more sustainable and is providing more and better services to those who need them.

But, McCormick said, the organization still relies on the support of the community to help fund the program. While some may find it hard to understand how it works as opposed to just running a shelter, it still is important to give, she said.

For more information on ForKids or to donate, visit