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Alliance for Shelter shifts focus

Agency will no longer run a homeless shelter

By Alex Bridges

A Shenandoah County agency that fights homelessness plans to do so without a shelter.

Effective immediately, the Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter will focus on prevention and "rapid re-housing." The Alliance lost its home - and one of the area's few emergency shelters-- on April 13 when a fire destroyed the Alms House at the Shenandoah County Farm near Maurertown. The agency since moved to its current location in Woodstock.

The Alliance's focus remains on fighting homelessness and keeping people from ending up on the streets, Executive Director Sheila Orndorff said Tuesday.

"We're still going to fulfill our mission," Orndorff said. "We're still going to work on housing issues and the homeless or near-homeless."

In 2013, only 13 of the 100 households helped by the Alliance used the shelter. Money used to cover the high overhead costs of a shelter could be better spent on other programs, an Alliance press release stated.

Instead of running a shelter, the Alliance plans to use money it receives from state and federal sources to help prevent homelessness through financial assistance, Program Administrator Kerry Keihn said Tuesday. The Alliance expects to serve more people in 2014 through the homeless prevention and rapid re-housing programs.

The agency received $156,660 from the Department of Housing and Community Development's Virginia Homeless Prevention Program. Of that amount, $121,740 funds the Alliance's homeless prevention program and $34,920 goes toward "rapid re-housing" efforts.

As Keihn explained, rapid re-housing comes into play when a homeless person or family contacts the Alliance seeking shelter. The Alliance works with area landlords to put homeless people in temporary housing. Grant money is used to provide hotel or motel stays for homeless households while landlords prepare rental units. In some cases, the Alliance can get a household moved into a home or apartment the same day it seeks shelter, Keihn said.

The homeless prevention approach is designed to keep households in their homes if they face eviction as a result of a financial crisis beyond their control. A household may qualify for up to 90 days of assistance. Keihn said the Alliance would help a person or family pay back rent while still providing the services the agency offers, such as counseling or connecting a household to needed health care.

The loss of the Alliance's emergency shelter does not leave homeless people in Shenandoah County without options. Response Inc. provides emergency shelter for homeless women and children in addition to its services for victims of sexual and domestic violence.

The Alliance implemented rapid re-housing and homeless prevention programs in 2012. The agency's board and staff compared the programs' outcomes and costs to providing emergency shelter and concluded that it could best serve the community by focusing on those goals rather than run an emergency shelter. A study done by the National Alliance to End Homelessness showed that it costs an average of $2,800 to move a household from rapid re-housing to a permanent home compared to $10,714 to move a client from emergency shelter to housing.

The Alliance and its board of directors began considering the shift months before the fire and questioned whether or not running an emergency shelter was the best way to spend its money. Since the 1990s, the Alliance used the Alms House as its emergency shelter and for its offices. In later years, the building's condition reduced its shelter space.

Government funding for shelter programs has been cut over the years. The focus has shifted from emergency shelters to programs aimed at keeping people from becoming homeless.

Visit allianceforshelter.org or contact the agency central intake line at 540-277-0012. Visit www.responseva.org or contact Response's hotline at 540-459-5161.

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

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