AmeriCorps volunteer to work on regional homeless efforts

The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission has been awarded a Volunteers in Service to America placement by the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness to oversee the federal grant process for homelessness reduction.

Commission Director Martha Shickle said she is excited to have the AmeriCorps volunteer on board.

“We’ve been using the coalition to end homelessness as a consultant to help us plan and gain grants for the homeless issue throughout the region,” Shickle said. “Now, we can have somebody here fulltime, on site, to attend to those needs.”

The position will begin in March and run until February 2016.

The commission, which is a member of the Western Virginia Continuum of Care, a collection of agencies and charities that combat homelessness,  acts as a regional planning authority for Page, Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick, Clarke counties as well as towns and cities within them. Shickle said while homelessness is often seen as an urban problem, it is still an issue in rural areas.

“Often times we don’t see people living on the streets in this area, but you’ll see people living with relatives and friends, but without a permanent home,” Shickle said. “It might not be as visible, but it’s still a problem here, too.”

Jill Fox, deputy director of the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, said awarding the commission the placement would enable the coalition to change its focus in meeting the need of homeless individuals in the area.

“We’re really excited to choose them and we’re really excited to keep working with them,” Fox said. “As we exit out as the main consultant with them, we are transitioning out to a different role and bringing somebody on board to continue the planning and grant writing work and do much more.”

Fox said the coalition would continue to aid the commission by providing “training, support and technical assistance.”

“The linkage is still there between us and the commission, but now we’ll have somebody on the ground to do more than what we could do in Richmond,” Fox said.

Fox said with about 7,000 homeless people in Virginia according to the 2014 homeless count, homelessness is a “manageable issue.”

“Since 2010, Virginia has reduced homelessness by 22.6 percent,  and a lot of those reductions are due to the shift toward more permanent solutions for homelessness and engaging the community as a whole to solve the problem,” Fox said.

“It is a small percentage of the population, but it’s surprising how much the issue costs society to keep people in shelters and on the streets. It costs us more to not do anything than to end homelessness,” she added.

While the causes of homelessness varies on a case by case basis, lacking a network of friends and relatives leads people to living on the streets, Fox said.

“There isn’t a lot of actual real hard research on the causes or predictors of homelessness, but one predictor that does seem to be backed by evidence is the lack of a support network,” she said.

Fox said recently released convicts, people who grew up in the child welfare system, the mentally ill, substance abusers and veterans are highly vulnerable populations because life circumstances may have damaged and weakened their support system.

“Some people, like those with substance abuse or severe mental illness, might burn through their support networks,” Fox said. “Other people, like folks raised in foster care or people in the prison system, might not have a support network to fall on to.”

There are 16 Continuum of Care boards throughout the commonwealth. Fox said while every Continuum of Care has a different composition of agencies and nonprofit organizations, the Western Virginia Continuum of Care is highly effective.

“For the past two or three years, we’ve been seeing a lot of good things coming out of the Western CoC,” Fox said. “I think with the commission, it’s a strong partner that works across the jurisdiction and fills a regional planning role that matches the Western CoC footprint.”

Fox added, “It’s great to have an anchor like that to serve in a planning role.”

The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission is located at 400 Kendrick Lane, Front Royal

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com