After 17 years of helping homeless families and survivors of domestic violence, Homestretch’s executive director Christopher Fay is retiring from one of the city’s most well-known non-profit organizations.
Fay, who will be succeeded by experienced non-profit leader Barfonce Baldwin beginning in September, has helped Homestretch achieve various accomplishments, such as consistent, successful long-term outcomes for the families served by the organization.
“Leaving Homestretch is invariably going to be a bittersweet experience because I love Homestretch and it’s been the most rewarding employment of my life,” Fay said. “It’s a passion and I’ve gotten a lot of support for it.”
Fay’s journey with helping homeless families began in New York City, where he started a program, followed by a move to Washington D.C. where he worked for the Eisenhower Foundation in helping ex-felons. Four years after his move to the nation’s capital, Fay said he came across the executive director role at Homestretch, which he described as a “perfect fit.”
“This was a wonderful opportunity for me because it had the things I wanted to have in going to help homeless families,” Fay said. “When I was working with homeless people in New York City, I didn’t have any housing….I was working without one of the most important resources you could provide.”
While assuming the role of executive director of Homestretch, Fay said he had various inspirations when navigating his position. The first being the organization’s former executive director Nancy Taxson, who “had the right vision” for Homestretch, and the second being Kieran Sharpe, an original founder and longtime resident and council member for the city.
“I draw a lot of my understanding of how to do this work also [from] my faith,” Fay said. “But it’s a combination of people that I know of or people that I know personally that give me strength.”
Throughout his 17 years at Homestretch and many accomplishments, Fay said his “biggest achievement” has been the ability to “create an environment” that provides an “individualized approach” to each family the organization helps. An example of this would be taking in a family with a “particular set of problems” and trying to create a plan around said family that addresses those specific issues in a way that differs from another family.
“I think it’s very hard to do [what Homestretch does] in social work-oriented programs for a number of reasons,” Fay said. “They don’t have the funding to permit it.”
A challenge Fay said he and Homestretch faced during his time as executive director was a change in government policy that affected the organization’s funding. A major funder in terms of homeless policies was the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which Fay said created a set of mandatory guidelines for organizations receiving funds that “prohibits the kind of depth and individualization” that Homestretch offers.
“Right now, the only government funding we receive is from the City of Falls Church,” Fay said. “That’s our last remaining source of any government funding…otherwise, it’s the community and our local residents that make Homestretch possible.”
Under Fay’s leadership, Homestretch has proven graduate success through various outcome studies. The most recent 2023 study by the organization found nearly 90 percent of Homestretch’s graduating families never returned to homelessness and the majority of families continued to use the skills provided at Homestretch to acquire further education, skills and greater financial security.
“I just want to say ‘thank you’ to the City of Falls Church,” Fay said. “I think we should all be grateful that a city like Falls Church would welcome a program like Homestretch.”
On what he believes his successor, Barfonce Baldwin, will bring to the table at Homestretch, Fay said Baldwin has “years of experience” working with homeless populations, trafficking survivors and people who have survived domestic and gender-based violence. His advice for Baldwin is to “trust the staff” at Homestretch, who have an “enormous amount of experience and understanding” about the goals of the organization.
“[Baldwin] has the same energy and vision that I did when I came [to Homestretch],” Fay said. “She’s made a great impression on our board and staff.”
Although his position as executive director will end at the beginning of September, Fay said he would like to write and present on Homestretch conferences, while promoting the concepts that underlie the organization’s model and give people “faith” that there are solutions to homelessness. Outside of this, Fay said he would like to begin illustrating for children’s books, something he had done in the past, while also spending time with his new grandson.
“I think it is the belief that every life, no matter how seemingly broken, is salvageable and worth our investment,” Fay said when asked by the News-Press on what he wants his legacy to be at Homestretch. “If we believe that we provide the right resources in the right environment, most people will latch on to that and can reignite their hope.”