Agencies meet to discuss resources available to homeless

HARRISONBURG – There were 268 people – 54 of them children younger than 18 –  living in shelters or outdoors in the Shenandoah Valley this past January. That’s a 6-percent increase over the previous year, according to the Western Virginia Continuum of Care.

Continuum of Care, a collaboration of stakeholders that work to prevent and end homelessness in the valley, met with the public and members of other agencies Tuesday at the Lucy Simms Continuing Education Center to discuss resources available to the homeless or those at risk of becoming homeless in Rockingham, Frederick, Clarke, Warren, Shenandoah and Page counties.

Some of the resources outlined during the meeting include rental and rapid-rehousing assistance as well as help with credit issues and foreclosures.

Amber Joiner-Hill, Continuum of Care coordinator for the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, noted that Centralized Housing Intake is a “one-stop shop for folks who are homeless or at risk for becoming homeless.”

She said anyone in need of assistance should call Centralized Housing Intake at 540-571-1701 and their or their family’s needs and eligibility will be assessed.

She said informational sheets have been printed by the organization to explain the different resources available to those who are or may become homeless.

One resource available is tenant-based rental assistance that protects clients from losing their housing and becoming homeless, she said. Assistance provided can include rent, security and utility deposits. AIDS Response Effort, Blue Ridge Housing Network, Faithworks and Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter can provide tenant-based rental assistance.

She noted that this form of assistance is not available in Rockingham County.

Candy Phillips, executive director of First Step in Harrisonburg, said rapid re-housing assistance is available through Continuum of Care.

“Rapid re-housing funds are to help persons in the community who are literally homeless. They have no home, staying at a shelter or staying at a place not meant for human habitation, like they are living in their car, and they need assistance to get out of homelessness through funding to get into an apartment of their own,” she said.

She said assistance provided can include rent arrears, housing search and placement, housing stabilization services, mediation and credit repairs and case management. AIDS Response Effort, The Laurel Center, Choices, First Step, Mercy House and Response can provide prevention assistance.

Permanent supportive housing is also available, said Charles Smith, senior adult mental health case manager for Northwestern Community Services Board. He said this assistance provides help locating a 12-month lease for a rental unit, monthly rental assistance and access to case management. The Northwestern Community Services Board and the Harrisonburg Redevelopment Housing Authority offer permanent supportive housing.

Housing opportunities are also available for those with HIV or AIDS. The AIDS Response Effort and Valley AIDS Network can provide this service. In order to qualify for assistance, a household must have at least one person with HIV or AIDS diagnosis and related diseases, which may include a minor with the disease. The income must be less than 80 percent of local area median income.

Valerie Roth, housing counselor with People Incorporated, said foreclosure prevention is also available for those in the area.

“Foreclosure prevention is a free service and there’s no eligibility requirement, it’s for any homeowner who’s facing foreclosure or fears they may face foreclosure in the future or just have questions about the financial aspect of being a homeowner,” she said.

The Blue Ridge Housing Network and People Incorporated provide foreclosure prevention for this area. Assistance can include modifying or refinancing a loan for lower payments, addressing concerns about “underwater” mortgages, finding assistance for unemployed homeowners or providing a managed exit from the home.

Shannon Porter, director of Mercy House, said prevention assistance is also a tremendous need in the area but has narrow requirements. Monthly case management is required. He said in order to qualify, a person must be in imminent risk of homelessness, have a court-issued unlawful detainers, must have a household income below 30 percent of area median income and must have no other resources available to them.

He said for all of these programs, “The need is so significant and the resources are so limited.”

For additional information on these assistance programs, visit the Continuum of Care website at www.ContinuumOfCare513.com.

Also at the meeting, changes to the Continuum of Care charter were discussed – including the formation of a media advocacy committee, the addition of the code of conduct and media relations to the charter that were previously stand-alone documents.

Roth added that the 2017 Point-in-Time count for Virginia will be held Jan. 25. The count provides a “snapshot of homelessness” for the area.

A grant for a new program, Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program to help prevent and end homelessness by building comprehensive systems of care of young people, will also be set up for the area.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com.