‘Sense of desperation’

Published 11:01 pm Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cold winter weather brings joy to kids who like to go outside and play in the snow.

But for kids who live outside, extreme cold like the temperatures the area has experienced this week only make homelessness more unbearable.

“The numbers of calls have not increased substantially, but the desperation has,” said Bill Young, chief development officer at ForKids, which helps homeless families in Hampton Roads. “Of those who are calling, there is a much higher sense of desperation.”


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Young referred to the number of calls just in the past couple weeks, which has seen a stretch of cold weather and two snow events. Call volumes for all of January are up significantly from December — 26 in the first 18 days of this month compared to 20 for all of last month. And that’s just for Suffolk and Western Tidewater.

“It does tend to go up and down depending on need,” Young said. January can be a rough month for homelessness, as the generosity of the holiday season is gone, financial pressures after the holidays mount and the cold weather compounds the situation.

Young said the organization has been unable to help most of the callers this month, because its system is at capacity. It currently is working with about 18 families in Suffolk and Western Tidewater — six families staying in a hotel, the first phase of help, and 12 that are receiving case management services to help them stabilize after a hotel stay.

“The program continues to work very well, but it’s a matter of limited funding to meet the need that we can,” Young said. “Unfortunately, there are families that are in urgent need of shelter that we cannot serve. In many respects, we can work with families to refer them to what resources are available, but in some cases there’s simply nothing we can do.”

The organization used to run a shelter on Finney Avenue in the downtown area, but realized that model was not working, because some families from more rural areas did not want to leave their environment.

So ForKids transitioned to helping families pay for hotel rooms for short periods of time, while helping them address the issues that contributed to their homelessness in the first place. Adults receive employment counseling, mental health services and other resources they need, while children also are able to receive counseling, help with homework and more.

For more information on ForKids or to donate, visit www.homesforkids.org.