By Christopher Fay
Amid the impeachment turmoil in Washington, it is easy to forget that there are other persistent problems facing our nation. One of those languishing problems is homelessness. Despite spending millions of dollars, cities like Washington, Seattle and Los Angeles are witnessing their homeless population grow each year. One might wonder: Is homelessness a solvable problem?
The answer is yes. Right here in Falls Church, we are showing that homelessness need not be a lasting condition of life for anyone. One after another, homeless parents with children are using Homestretch to transform the course of their lives. This year Homestretch will turn 30 years old, and we are happy to report that over 2,000 homeless families have left homelessness and poverty behind through Homestretch. Moreover, these 2,000 families will never experience homelessness again, nor will their over 5,000 children.
Go into a local café and you might be served a latte by a Homestretch graduate. A Homestretch graduate might be the dental hygienist who cleans your teeth, the pharmacy tech who helps fulfill your prescription, or the nurse caring for you in the hospital. The driver of your child’s school bus, the mortgage broker who helps you secure a loan, the realtor who finds you a home, or the pastor who prays for you, all may be Homestretch graduates. Even your daughter’s new roommate in college might be a child of Homestretch.
Contrary to the protestations of housing advocates, homelessness is caused by more than a lack of affordable housing. In fact, homelessness has many causes. Domestic violence, human trafficking, chronic illness, death of loved ones, prolonged unemployment, lack of skills and education, and sheer poverty all might lead families to homelessness. So, ending homelessness requires many solutions tailored to individual needs. Homestretch is so successful at ending homelessness because we offer a depth of services to address the multiple problems faced by homeless families, and we allow them ample time to make substantial and lasting changes to their lives.
Most homeless programs provide only short-term rental subsidies with limited services. While this may be good for people with skills, a work history, and some education, it is simply not enough for people with more complex problems. People in this situation find themselves unable to maintain housing once the subsidies end, so it is no wonder that cities like the District of Columbia and Richmond have escalating eviction rates.
Homestretch serves homeless parents with children. This means that what we do affects more than just the parent. We open avenues for the children to experience happy and flourishing futures; this means investing in them and their families as if they are our own families. And it means believing in them, believing in their capacity to overcome tremendous obstacles and to succeed.
Succeed they do. Last month, we hosted an event where five graduates spoke about Homestretch. One is a Homestretch child in college at George Mason; one is an emergency room registered nurse; another graduated summa cum laude in nursing and is now earning her master’s degree; one works at Deloitte; and one is the manager of a bank. Talk about defying expectations!
As we enter Homestretch’s 30th year, it is heart-warming to think that we can do this work in the City of Falls Church. One might think that such an affluent city might not be so welcoming of a program for the homeless, but we have felt extraordinary love and support from the city and all our neighbors. I suspect this is because of our reputation for dramatically changing lives. We are proving that anyone, no matter how damaged their past life, can turn their crisis into opportunity in Homestretch. Especially when there are little children involved, this is a promise we as a community can, should and will make together.
Thank you for believing in Homestretch and the families we serve.
Christopher Fay is executive director of Homestretch.