Like clean air and clean water, shelter is a basic human need. Yet, some of the most vocal arguments in any community focus on housing – size and style, location, price, and who should live there. Fortunately, most people in our region are able to find appropriate housing that fits their pocketbooks. For those who can’t, non-profit organizations step into the breach to help people who find themselves homeless and with few resources to cope. Non-profit partners include Shelter House and VOA/Chesapeake, which operate shelters; New Hope Housing, which provides transitional housing; and Homestretch, which helps families transition from homelessness to supportive housing and, in some cases, eventually to home ownership.
At a breakfast last week, Homestretch celebrated the results of a lot of hard work and support for its families. The vast majority of adults in Homestretch families become employed while in the program, often as a result of enrolling in training or vocational classes. Most of the families are headed by single mothers, often homeless because of domestic violence. All have children under the age of 18. One young woman told a story of becoming homeless at the age of 12, when she and her siblings witnessed her father trying to kill her mother. They escaped to a grandmother’s home, but after two months, it wasn’t working. The girl’s relationship with her mother worsened, and she became very depressed. Homestretch enrolled the family into their program, the girl entered the Teenstretch after-school program, which provided a nurturing and supervised environment for homework and social activities, and now, at the age of 19, she is enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College, and has a much brighter future.
Another woman told her story of coming to America with her husband, with no knowledge of English, no job skills. A year after their son was born, her husband decided he didn’t want to have a family anymore, and threw them out. Fortunately, she found Homestretch, which helped her develop the skills she needed to get a job. As she stood at the podium, nearly in tears, she described, in almost unaccented English, how happy her now six-year-old son is, in a stable home with a working mom.
Such stories of devastating circumstances are not infrequent. Fairfax County’s Point-in-Time count of homeless persons revealed that total numbers decreased by 125 people, from 1350 in 2013 to 1225 in 2014, and 33 percent were children under the age of 18, unchanged during the past two years. Additionally, 33 percent of all persons in families were homeless because of domestic violence, up from 27 percent in 2013. Fairfax County’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness was adopted in February 2007. Progress toward that goal has been significant during the past seven years, but much remains to be done. The public/private partnerships between Fairfax County and non-profit organizations will continue to help find solutions to the challenge of homelessness, but they need support from all in the community – businesses, places of worship, civic organizations, and volunteers. Everyone deserves a safe and clean place to call home.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]