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Group finds home after fire, continues work

By Alex Bridges

The Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter has found a new, temporary home this week thanks to a Woodstock family.

The nonprofit organization lost its home April 13 when a fire destroyed the historic Alms House on the Shenandoah County Farm. The Alliance had been using part of the building for its operations and as shelter for area homeless individuals and families.

Attorney Orrin French and his family donated office space at 114 Lawyer's Row in Woodstock to the Alliance, Kerry Keihn, the organization's program administrator, said Wednesday. The French family is allowing the Alliance to stay in the space for 90 days while the organization regroups.

The organization is in the process of moving into the space and setting up its phones and computers as well as utilities. The phone number for the organization - 436-3202 -- still directs callers to the Alliance.

"It's almost up and running," Keihn said. "Everything's in the process of getting hooked up. Hopefully, by Monday, we'll have Internet and a way to print. We'll be able to make calls out and start making appointments."

Even without an office, the Alliance continued its work as usual. The centralized referral process alerted callers that it may take about a week to begin returning calls and make appointments. The service also was able to refer callers to other agencies if they were at risk of eviction.

The Alliance plans to run all of its assistance programs through the summer. The agency may use emergency grant money normally allocated for shelter services at the Alms House as vouchers for hotel accommodations, Keihn said.

"We'll be able to do everything out of this office that we did," Keihn said.

The Alliance did not receive any emergency funding through government agencies as a result of losing its home. The organization has received private donations either in supplies or cash.

"The community's been incredible," Keihn said. "People have been extremely generous and, on top of that, the monetary donations that are still coming in are really, really helpful at this time."

The loss of the Alms House left area homeless people with fewer options for shelter. The Alliance was the only organization that provided shelters to families, couples and single parents with children. Response Inc. takes in homeless people as well as women and children who are victims of domestic violence.

The shelter had found success with its rapid re-housing efforts by which they find a home for a homeless family quickly, Keihn said. The Alliance then pays the rent for up to 90 days. A small percentage of the Alliance's clients stayed at the shelter. Keihn noted that the Alliance will continue to offer all its services except temporary shelter for the time being.

A couple living at the shelter when the fire started escaped from the building. The local chapter of the American Red Cross provided temporary aid by putting the couple in a hotel for a few nights.

That gave the Alliance for Shelter time to work with the Shenandoah County Department of Social Services to find aid for the couple. As Keihn recalled, she and department Director Carla Taylor worked on a plan for the couple. Keihn said she felt the couple likely needed trauma counseling after the fire.

"I'm sure that was a really horrifying event," Keihn said.

The department immediately opened an adult protective services case and helped the couple apply for Medicaid and food assistance. Keihn said the couple had used up their food-stamp benefits when the fire destroyed their food. The agencies helped the couple apply for replacement IDs and Social Security cards as well as for counseling.

"Now, unfortunately, they turned down a lot of these services and they are now no longer in the county," Keihn said. "We tried really, really hard to get them what they need."

The Department of Social Services transported the couple to another shelter while they try to get back on their feet, Keihn said. The couple can still qualify and receive trauma counseling and the other services through their local department.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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