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Historic County Farm shifting its approach to the homeless

Kerry Keihn, program administrator for Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter, stands outside the Shenandoah County Farm in Maurertown where their agency provides transitional housing for county residents. The agency is switching gears and will be undergoing renovations to provide permanent supportive housing and emergency housing. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Sally Voth

MAURERTOWN -- The Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter is changing how it approaches homelessness.

With government funding cuts looming, the alliance's board of directors this winter decided to switch its operations at the Shenandoah County Farm from transitional to permanent supportive housing.

State and federal funding for transitional housing programs will end on June 30, the end of fiscal 2013, said Kerry Keihn, the alliance's program administrator.

She explained that clients would sign a lease to live at the County Farm, "and they would pay 30 percent of their income -- no matter how low their income."

That payment would go toward rent and utilities, she said.

"We would hook them up with other supportive services," Keihn said.

Those services may include mental health treatment, employment services, budget counseling, case management or substance abuse programs, she said.

Capacity at the alms house was greatly reduced when part of the 1829 structure fell down several years ago, forcing residents out of that area of the building, which remains condemned.

Keihn said renovations to that area as well as to a stable section of the facility are expected to continue into 2015.

"Between the middle of 2013 and 2015, we will run an emergency shelter for families," she said.

That will be the same sort of service as currently being offered in the transitional housing program, with the exception of how long residents may live there, according to Keihn.

"Instead of staying up to two years, now they have to be out within 30-90 days," she said.

Currently, three out of the four available rooms are occupied, Keihn said.

"We had somebody just move out this week," she said.

Services coordinator Whitney Hamrick noted that it was "a good move out."

Keihn agreed.

"[They] moved out into stable housing," she said. "That's always good."

It's hoped that, after renovations are complete, there will be 12-14 rooms, with kitchenettes and half-baths, Keihn said. Full baths, a full kitchen, a dining area and a community room will be shared.

At that time, additional staffers, including 24-hour security, will be needed, Keihn said. Single men also will be allowed to live at the County Farm then, too. Right now, it's just families and single women, according to Keihn.

"We have gardens, too, which will definitely be utilized when people are staying here for a longer time in the permanent supportive housing," she said.

Keihn said many of Alliance for Shelter's current clients will be eligible for the permanent program. Sixty percent of the clients must be disabled.

"The reason that's so easy to find is because those individuals are living on fixed incomes that average about $700 a month," Keihn said.

The remaining 40 percent of residents can be those with multiple housing barriers or barriers to employment and unable to find stable housing in the past, Keihn said.

"Most are self-employed," she said. "A lot are struggling to find work, or they have work, but don't have reliable transportation to get to work, and a lot are on fixed incomes."

The Alliance for Shelter will continue its other programs, including one providing interest-free loans and the Help Link program, a hotline service to facilitate utility payments by churches.

Keihn said the community's support of the County Farm has been strong.

"We actually have a lot of farmers in the area who will donate food when it's in season," she said.

Donations also come in during the holidays, and through fundraisers.

One such fundraiser is a pottery bingo on April 20 at Mt. Olive United Methodist Church, 12180 Back Road, Toms Brook. An Elizabeth Strippy framed print of the County Farm will be raffled off during the bingo.

For more information, contact Executive Director Sheila Orndorff at 540 436-3202 or sased@shentel.net.

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com


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