October 29, 2015

Point-in-Time Volunteering: A Window into the Work Still to be Done to End Homelessness

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While participating in the Point-in-Time count recently, I had a glimpse into the world of homelessness. I saw a variety of circumstances experienced by homeless individuals and learned that the journey to end homelessness in Richmond, Virginia continues. The number of homeless adults and children remains unchanged from last year but is down nearly 29 percent since 2009.

On July 30th, I volunteered at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church as part of Homeward’s Point-In-Time (PIT) count. I interviewed three homeless individuals with three different circumstances and was reminded that each story is unique.

Since it serves a large number of lunches for the homeless every week, St. Paul’s is an excellent venue for the PIT count.  This lunch ministry is only one of a robust offering of services to the downtown community where St. Paul’s parishioners and others promote their mission of “Proclaiming Christ in the Heart of the City.”FullSizeRender2

With 79 percent of the adult homeless counted in January 2015 being male, it was not surprising that the three I surveyed for the PIT count were all men.

The first man indicated he served time in jail and had a mental disability for which he was being treated.  His first priority was to get a free haircut from one of the hairstylists volunteering their services, his second was finding clothing from donations, and his third was getting lunch. He was not interested in help to find housing.  Since this was the normal lunch offering by St. Paul’s during which the Point-In-Time Count was being conducted, I thanked him and wished him well.

The second man was a veteran who also had spent time in jail but did not have any disabilities. He lived on the streets, yet I could not convince him to speak with the McGuire Veterans Medical Center case workers for the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) Program to help him find housing.

The third man told me a story that gave me great joy. He lived in a tent, had spent time in jail, and had an alcoholism disability. He had been in recovery for seven months. In April 2015, he had signed up for the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) Section 8 voucher waiting list. RRHA had placed the names of all those applicants with preferences, such as being chronically homeless, in a lottery and he was one of the lucky applicants selected to receive a voucher. I urged him to comply with all of RRHA’s rules, even those with which he might disagree.  He assured me that he would.

My glimpse through the window into the world of homelessness showed me that as we work toward the goal of ending chronic homelessness and eliminating homelessness for veterans, the variety of circumstances the homeless face contribute to the fact that there is much hard work to be done.  And the HUD Richmond Field Office continues to work with our partners to build on best practices to end homelessness.

Toni Schmiegelow is a Senior Management Analyst in HUD’s Richmond field office

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