Great news for the homeless

Published 10:38 pm Thursday, April 20, 2017

Homelessness is a problem that goes largely unmarked in Suffolk and the rest of Western Tidewater. The rural nature of much of this area means that there are few places where homeless people can gather in numbers large enough to be noticed. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.

In fact, the Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk stays busy throughout the year — especially during the winter months, when it operates a night stay program at churches around the city — helping as many of the city’s homeless residents as it can.

CAPS organized in response to a perceived vacuum of services for the homeless that was created when ForKids closed its Finney Avenue residential location — the former Center for Hope and New Beginnings — a few years back. The 29-year-old, Norfolk-based organization was having a hard time getting volunteers who were willing to work in an area they perceived to be dangerous, and its leaders transitioned to a hotel-based model of housing the homeless that actually served far more people than the six families a night who could be housed in the residence on Finney.

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ForKids has continued to operate in Suffolk, providing office space and after-school programs for children in the house, but its under-the-radar approach was not satisfactory to anyone.

A move by that organization to buy the former Kelly’s Tavern on West Constance Road could be make a huge difference in the organization’s impact on the homeless community in Suffolk.

The 7,000-square-foot building will serve as a larger office space for employees to work, provide a larger and more welcoming space for after-school programs and allow the organization to receive and process donations of clothing and other items there. It will house counseling rooms, meeting space and classrooms with upgraded technology for tutoring and adult education.

The new location will also raise the profile of ForKids in Suffolk and, in so doing, raise the awareness of homelessness as a continuing problem, even in this largely rural area.

There is much work to be done before the dream can become a reality. A $2 million capital campaign has been launched to fund renovations to the Kelly’s building, which will be called the Suffolk Regional Services Center and serve Suffolk, Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight. Further a $14 million campaign is also under way that eventually will result in a new regional family shelter.

This is excellent news for Suffolk and for the rest of Western Tidewater, and it’s wonderful news for those who are desperate for shelter, even if their need isn’t obvious to the average resident of this area. We look forward to seeing great things being done on their behalf.