By Josette Keelor
In 1989, the Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter formed with a mission of preventing homelessness by providing temporary shelter and supportive services designed to help clients achieve independence.
Despite challenges over the past year following a change in state and federal funding for transitional housing programs that ended June 30, Executive Director Sheila Orndorff said the alliance is looking to the future.
Families used to have the option of staying for up to two years at the Shenandoah County Farm that also houses the alliance office, "But that has all changed," Orndorff said.
Because of government funding cuts, "The longest they can stay is 90 days," she said. And that presents challenges depending on residents' reasons for needing housing.
Some are unemployed and can't afford to keep their previous home, some don't have transportation to take them to paying jobs, and others have health or mental health issues that make it hard for them to work or travel.
"It could be multiple or just a few housing barriers," Orndorff said.
The alliance requires a credit check for potential residents, but Orndorff said help includes case management such as budget counseling, job readiness and help finding a more permanent home.
Since funding for transitional housing ended in June, the alliance changed its shelter from transitional to emergency status, which will continue until next year on June 30. Then the alliance plans to make headway toward permanent supportive housing.
"The plans are to keep going doing grant applications and get prevention dollars here and in our region," Orndorff said.
More rooms at the house will help complete that mission because, "There's more requests than we can fill," Orndorff said. "No matter what dollar amount we have ... it's just not enough to fill all the needs."
For years the alliance has been unable to use many of its former rooms since part of the 1829 farmhouse collapsed.
The alliance received a grant for $500,000 toward renovations but lost it because it couldn't raise the rest of the million it needs for the project.
"They had to start construction within a certain amount of time," Orndorff said. Now another grant is ready, and she said they're just working on securing the rest of the funds and a program design with the help of the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness and Virgina Supportive Housing.
"We're pretty confident," she said. "We've secured the money before, we think we can do that again."
The construction probably won't start until 2015, and the alliance doesn't expect to be up and running until late 2016 or early '17.
On Nov. 22, the alliance will hold its 22nd Annual Empty Bowl Soup Supper and Silent Auction from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Central High School cafeteria in Woodstock to raise funds for its homeless prevention programs, grant-funded programs the alliance runs with $108,000 it has allotted to help keep people housed.
The Rapid Rehousing Project, provides shelter for the homeless who contact the alliance looking for help, Orndorff said. The alliance offers budget counseling and case management to help program participants find secure, stable housing.
"And we've had really good success rates from that," she said.
The alliance also runs the Tenant-based Rental Assistance program for those who have a temporary financial crisis and the Emergency Solution Program, giving financial assistance to prevent homelessness.
Because the programs are financed by grants, they don't require reimbursement to the alliance.
Ultimately, the alliance wants to enable the people it helps to pay only 30 percent of their income toward housing, an ideal that they haven't reached yet, according to Orndorff.
"We don't have enough affordable housing," she said. Some of the people she has been helping earn only $700 a month but are faced with rent at a much greater percentage.
"How are you going to eat? How are you going to do all these things?" she asked.
The alliance's approach to providing housing aims to balance out the numbers for residents who then can stay as long as they like in small efficiency units on fixed incomes.
When their situation improves, she said, "They're going to want to move on. ... They're going to want to improve their housing."
For more information about the Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter, call 540-436-3202 or visit www.allianceforshelter.org. The 22nd Annual Empty Bowl Soup Supper and Silent Auction will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Nov. 22. Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for students. The cost includes soup, bread, homemade cookies and the hand-crafted pottery bowls made by local talented potters. Proceeds will benefit all of the homeless prevention programs.