Williamsburg's Homeless & Indigent

P.O. Box 366, Lightfoot, VA 23090
Office: 757-561-3255
"Assisting people in re-gaining hope and a better way of life."

Monday, August 25, 2003

To those who do not live here:

This is a response to many who have written into our paper about a homeless shelter and the falling through of Building 27 on our mental institution's campus.

John Favret, Marty Kline and John Joyce were all upfront and honest about the difficulties with Building 27 and bringing it up to code. They informed us of each problem we would face in regards to reconnecting the water line, heating of the building, the doors passing fire code, the updating of blueprints, sprinkler systems and the asbestos. This was never seen as a problem to us, because other buildings in Wsburg needed as much repair and funding and has been made available. Avalon even at one time needed as much funding for their capital funds and surpassed the amount requested. If anything was going to be a challenge, it was the re-zoning of the building. Please do not pass judgment on any employee of ESH and the claim that we were not informed. This is not true.

I would dispute the safety of the patients on ESH's facility grounds. The many times patients have left the grounds, walking down Ironbound in assorted costumes/attire have become well known. Many of the homeless we work with, show no threat to the community. If this was the case, why aren't they turned away from the churches where they fellowship at or fired from their jobs where they work? Building 27 is distant enough from the other buildings where patients are housed. And many that are homeless don't want to cause trouble. They have enough to be concerned about in their existence. They just want a place to sleep, food to eat, a friend to talk with and a job.

With the upcoming closings of Southern Inn, Carolyn Court, Five Forks and early layoffs at CW, Williamsburg is heading for a poverned situation that many have not experienced before. Tourism has decreased in the past couple of years, the smaller motels are selling out to larger chains, the rich are getting richer and the poor are ending up with a lack of affordable housing; with all this mind, which would you prefer: helping through support of donations to a shelter or passing the many that will be on the streets asking for money? Would you rather read your church's financial report to see how much they pay for weekly motel rooms or help fund a stable building under a faith based program for people to receive help? Many feel it is up to the local Social Services, but as a Christian you should know without God, nothing succeeds.

You think that if guests or parents of college students knew there were homeless in our area that W&M would shut down or tourism would fall. Tourism has already fallen, at no fault of the homeless. Several of the W&M students already donate their time to shelters and foodbanks many miles away from campus, since there isn't a shelter locally. Speak with any member of SHARPE or Hunger program at W&M and you will find they would be proud to give time to a shelter in Wsburg. Speak with their parents, whether they understand it or not, they appreciate their child's heart to help those in need. Besides most parents would prefer their child to help at a shelter than to work at Hooters!

Many think the homeless is made up of drunks and druggies that have caused their lack of hope and housing. This is also untrue. To prove this, we recently worked with a person who once lived in Kingsmill. And ironically enough, a neighbor on our street has recently come to us for help. We also know of cases where people, who were once homeless, are now store managers, owners, executives, a county supervisor and government nominees. You may not know this because of their fear to speak out due to the stigma connected with being homeless. But if you did know, would you still vote for them, work for them or shop at their store? We avoid many out of fear of their situation only because we are scared we could be next. Today, nobody is secured from being homeless and many are only a paycheck away from being homeless. Wouldn't you feel less scared that if it happened to you, their was somebody willing to help you without questions, without fear and only out of their heart or would you rather be turned down because you are over qualified, at one time made too much money and only to have your family ripped apart in two different shelters miles apart?

We have already helped others to get off the street and into homes. We have helped to reunite families. And we have opened many people's eyes to the situation on the street. All through God's love. Whose love do you want: man's or God's? Whose law do you follow: man's or God's? All we ask is to have a chance in Wsburg.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
Franklin Roosevelt

Wednesday, August 20, 2003


Historic Area layoffs likely in October

By Bill Tolbert
The Virginia Gazette

Published August 16, 2003

WILLIAMSBURG -- Interpreters and staff in the Historic Area will learn this fall about cutbacks to pare the payroll and trim the deficit.

Rex Ellis, Colonial Williamsburg's vice president for the Historic Area, discussed programming and operations in a July 25 memo to staff, which was leaked to the Gazette.

“Our objective is to have all programming and staffing decisions made by the beginning of October,” Ellis wrote. “At that time we will be able to give specific information to you regarding how these changes will affect you in particular.”

Rumors have circulated for some time that CW will make layoffs in the Historic Area to address a budget shortfall of $30 million. President Colin Campbell telegraphed the cutbacks months ago when he declared the Historic Area was producing too many programs.

Around 800 people work in the Historic Area, most of them in costume. The payroll is believed to approach $20 million, so it's highly attractive to budget-cutters in the Goodwin Building.

Interpreters dread the waiting.

“I'd like to know as soon as possible so I can know what's happening,” said one costumed interpreter. “But it's nerve-racking to have to wait. I can only hope.”

Another interpreter said the wait will only fuel the rumor mill. “We're already hearing all sorts of things about cutbacks and closings. Waiting until October won't do anything to shut that up.”

One rumor that persists is that the Historic Area will close for the winter after Christmas, but management steadfastly denies that.

Ellis wrote that he has met weekly with his directors to discuss the future of programs and operations. Specific staffing decisions haven't been made yet.

Any details about the number of workers who face layoffs remain closely guarded. Ellis said he and the directors will meet with staff next month, but specifics still aren't likely by then. “I want to be clear about what you can expect in that meeting,” Ellis wrote.

“At that time, we will share our plan for 2004 Historic Area operations, which will include site openings, an annual operating schedule, programming and staffing levels in general, and how it will all be implemented. We will not have concrete information on how this will affect each individual.”

Ellis conceded anxiety over the wait.

“It is critical, however, that we take the time to ensure that the operating model, which will affect all of us in the Historic Area as well as other parts of the foundation, is well-coordinated and thoroughly examined,” he wrote.

Ellis and the administration is looking at ways to tell the “Becoming Americans” story through the entire year, with a “model that is adjustable on a seasonal basis.” That's considered code for ratcheting down the staff sharply as winter sets in. Hundreds are laid off anyway in January, so the added emphasis on “seasonality” is considered ominous.

The programming will include the years 1773-76. Certain core programs and activities will be used all the time.

The Ellis memo includes nothing about the future or the fate of Carter's Grove Plantation, which will be closed for at least two years. Some fear the plantation, which had been the crux of CW's portrayal of slaves, may never reopen. Because it is regarded as a 1930s home, historians within the foundation consider it irrelevant to the story of the 1770s.

Ellis and Historic Area directors have met to discuss the “ideal guest experience,” and that the experience should be the core of what guests get throughout the year.

The goal is to balance the responsibility to “educate and engage” the audience with attention to guest service.

“We believe this experience should be educational and, when appropriate, fun and entertaining,” he continued in the memo.

“It should also be hassle-free with fewer lines and minimal waiting. Guest should have access to basics such as clean restrooms, water, food and yes, benches to rest on. We should provide an effective orientation so that they understand who we are as a living history museum, and the best ways to experience the town given the time they have and their particular interests. We will offer fewer programmatic choices, but the menu of choices will be the best we have.”

Right now, the Greater Williamsburg area is having 2 somewhat major disputes: a homeless shelter and Hooters (they are wanting to open a restaurant in our area.) Granted Hooters is a business and it will bring more income into this area, but what else does it bring? In the Bible, it speaks of the 'strange women' who tempt the men away from their wives and families (Proverbs 7:1-27; Proverbs 2:16-19; Proverbs 6:25). There are some who want the business to come to this area, but for the mostpart, it remains unwanted. So, the owners are choosing to go to York County (yes where we may end up as well) where the officials support any economy increase. Yet, it is ironic that a homeless shelter is also being disputed. Although it would not increase the income and jobs needed in our area, it provides a place for those on the streets to sleep and live. A shelter that will be designed to keep the families, husbands and wives together and lives up to God's commands to help the poor and the needy.

Unfortunately, Hooters probably has a better chance of getting a building than the homeless do. They have the funds behind their owls 'eyes'.

“I recently attended a meeting at James City Social Services concerning the Williamsburg Homeless & Indigent. I was upset to learn that Eastern State denied the use of Building 27 for the proposed shelter. If the shelter is not at Eastern State, it will be somewhere. When Christians come together for the good of people everywhere, it will work. I feel sorry for the people who will not be helped by social services because of no ID or address.”

“As a maintenance employee at Eastern State Hospital, I know the water has been cut off in Building 27 for years. Why hasn't director John Favret or John Joyce told the McKenzies about this? That building is not fit for anyone to occupy.”

"It is a disgrace for John Favret, director of Eastern State, to say that Building 27 would be a risk to the patients if it were to be used as a site for the homeless. The building has been closed for many years, and a shelter is needed in the community. Some folks who live here don't even make $10,000 a year. There are so many struggling, including those on disability, who only receive $500-700 a month to make ends meat. Thank God for A Gift From Ben (a church ministry that gives out food 3 times a week), where you can go for help. Building 27 is far away from the patients at ESH, it is big and seems secure. Doesn't Greater Williamsburg have any compassion?"

"I have followed the sad story about the homeless in Williamsburg and the outcome of the recent efforts by Geoff and Patti McKenzie. Perhaps Realtors could help with either providing land or older property for those less fortunate. Surely in a town like Williamsburg, there must be a compassionate, good-hearted person who would like to help with this problem. I often read about million-dollar donations being made to the College of William and Mary, yet I find it hard to believe that no one has stepped forward to help with the homeless problem. If I had it, I would give it."

This one was in the Gazette, but edited alot. The person also sent me a copy as well. Here is the original...
"To all that are concerned-
I wanted to clarify about the meeting last week with social services, Mr. Kennedy, Patti McKenzie and the homeless. I was one of the homeless that sat in on the meeting and Patti did not refuse to say where funding would come from for the use of a shelter and her program. Far from the truth. She did say where she would gather funds from, but Mr. Kennedy did not like her answer. Also, she pointed out that until a place is cited for a shelter, "how can you set a budget unless you want several different proposals?"
I have lived here most of my life and have seen others try to get a shlter. How much more effort is needed; how much more of a study is there to do; how much more needs to be said before the officials will allow a shelter.
In last weeks paper a person said there should be a program to help keep people from being homeless; there is! It is called HIP (Homeless Intervention Program.) Yet, you say that those who are homeless don't need help and if help is to be provided, it shouldn't be through the program Patti wants to do? Then who? Who should do it? Social Services that keeps us where we are? Zoning that sends the majority of jobs and income to York County? Or Jim Kennedy that stated in the meeting that "In 1980-81 I was homeless by choice." A person who was homeless by choice, that you continue to elect as Supervisor, though he forgets where he was at that time. He even said "I pulled myself up from my boot straps", so does that mean nobody helped him or he won't recognize anyone who helped him. I guarentee you somebody had to help, even if it was only God!


We have given up our own home to accommodate the homeless (Aug. 9 Gazette article, “Homeless leader loses shelter site, home”).

We have time and again stated that we work with organizations, churches and agencies with the goal of helping others. We have dedicated our time to others at our cost without giving it a second thought. Yet many still question our experience, our funds and our faith.

If it means giving up everything we have, except our marriage, to establish a shelter in Williamsburg, then so be it. This is one aspect nobody can question: our dedication. We are not seeking glory for what we do. We publicize via the newspaper and Internet to create awareness. We only want people to know that we take this seriously.

What good does it do to keep questioning our desire for a shelter? The only thing this accomplishes is to make the people who need help feel as if they aren't deserving of our efforts. Anyone who is a Christian and has a relationship with God knows that it is the poor and needy who are more deserving than others.

We will survive. We can always find another place to live in Williamsburg. But there are many who don't have this opportunity. There are a large number of people who need help because the cost-of-living here is too high for people in the service industry.

The James City officials I was claimed to have annoyed already know the facts about the homeless in Williamsburg, so what is the need for a study? All a study would accomplish is to postpone a program that could have already helped many. Besides, are they not aware that many others have tried to establish a shelter in Williamsburg long before we moved here? And they were shot down too.

If you want to do a study, then focus on these issues: (1) How much would it cost the taxpayers for a study by Social Services? (2) How much time would be used on the study that could have gone to people who wait in line for help? (3) How much money have the churches, Salvation Army and Williamsburg's Homeless & Indigent paid for hotels that could have gone to establish a shelter and get people into homes? (4) How can you sleep at night, knowing families with children are hungry and sleeping in their cars and on the streets?

I lose sleep when I hear a family is on the streets. I would rather miss a meal if it meant that somebody else could eat. And if somebody doesn't keep in contact with me, I go out and search for the person to make sure everything is okay.

We are a couple who wants to help others, with some volunteers and money out of our own pockets, or funds paid for needs by churches. Other than churches and organizations to help cover somebody's room or food, we have not asked for donations of money.

Some do it because it is their job. We do it because it is our calling.
Patti & Geoff McKenzie

Monday, August 18, 2003

As I was packing up some knick knacks, odds/ends and breakables I became frustrated with the thoughts "Ugh, here we go again." Then just as the thought bounced within my mind, I snapped back to scold myself for it. Not only should I appreciate what I have, but remember there are many on the streets that would want to be in my shoes. Want to be frustrated of packing their belongings in order to move to another home. Want to be frustrated with an over supply of objects. Want to be frustrated with a move again. Anything but on the street or in a weekly motel.

Although I am looking forward to the move, I am not looking forward to the packing. Luckily, most of our stuff is already packed and in the attic. Since we had to scale 'way down' from what we are use to, we were not able to unpack over half of our belongings. As far as I know, we have found a few places to rent. People have been gracious to call and offer their properties that were going on the rental market after the story ran that we were going to be 'houseless.' One person even made the offer with no deposit! We just now need to get out and see the homes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Story covered in USA Today

Homelessness grows as more live check-to-check

Homelessness grows as more live check-to-check
By Stephanie Armour, USA TODAY
Homelessness in major cities is escalating as more laid-off workers already living paycheck-to-paycheck wind up on the streets or in shelters.

William and Sue Kamstra and sons. Kamstra lost a $43,000-a-year job, forcing them to live at the mission.
By Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

As Americans file for bankruptcy in record numbers and credit card debt explodes, more workers are a paycheck away from losing their homes. Now the frail economy is pushing them over the edge. With 9 million unemployed workers in July, the face of homelessness is changing to include more families shaken by joblessness.

Former neighbors and co-workers are on the streets, live with relatives or stay in shelters. Unemployed managers are living with their elderly parents. Families who once owned their own homes now sleep on bunk beds in homeless shelters. Job seekers in suits and ties stop by soup kitchens heading out to afternoon interviews. With no place to live, some homeless are camping out in their cars until work comes along.

"There is still a mind-set that the homeless are substance abusers who have made bad life decisions," says Ralph Plumb, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles. "But more and more, they are individuals responding to a catastrophic financial event. The homeless are us. They're regular folk."

Requests for emergency shelter assistance grew an average of 19% from 2001 to 2002, according to the 18 cities that reported an increase — the steepest rise in a decade. The findings are from a 2003 survey of 25 cities by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Among the trends:

• Families with children are among the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. The Conference of Mayors found that 41% of the homeless are families with children, up from 34% in 2000. The Urban Institute reports about 23% of the homeless are children.

• Cities and shelters are also seeing the shift. In New York, the number of homeless families jumped 40% from 1999 to 2002. In Boston, the number of homeless families increased 8.3% to 2,328 in 2002 compared with 2001.

• An estimated 3.5 million people are likely to experience homelessness in a given year, the Urban Institute reports. People remained homeless for an average of six months, according to the Conference of Mayors survey — a figure that increased from a year ago in all but four cities.

Homelessness also increased during past recessions, but advocates say several issues are making the current rise more disconcerting. Those factors include the five-year cap on welfare benefits, a surge in home prices adding to longer periods of homelessness, and the fact that this recovery has been a jobless one, providing little immediate hope.

In fact, the majority of cities polled by the Conference of Mayors expect homelessness to increase over the next year.

While the economy is driving some of the increase in demand for shelter and food assistance, other factors include mental illness, substance abuse and low-paying jobs, according to the Conference of Mayors survey.

Jobs hard to find

For many families already on the edge, homelessness is a catastrophic reality. Less than a year ago, Kimberly Brochu was expecting a baby and living with her husband and four children in an apartment in Winslow, Maine. Then her husband, Allen, was laid off from his painting job.

Eight months pregnant, Brochu wound up on the streets with her family. They spent their nights sleeping in bunk beds at a homeless shelter and during the day camped out in their car at a Burger King. Today, she and her husband rent a duplex and are both working again.

"People think we get homeless because we're irresponsible, but it's hard finding jobs," says Brochu, 29, who works as a housekeeper and a waitress; Allen is a farmer's helper. "But my kids, if they become successful, they won't look down on people who are poor."

A growing number of families are vulnerable to homelessness because of the dismal job climate. The unemployment rate reached 6.4% in June, the highest since April 1994 before edging back to 6.2% in July. Last month, there were nearly 2 million unemployed workers who had been looking for a job for 27 weeks or longer, an increase of 276,000 since January, according to the Department of Labor.

For the homeless, getting or keeping a job without a place to live is a challenge. About 20% of homeless are employed, according to the Conference of Mayors.

More of those workers losing their jobs aren't able to afford a stint of unemployment. Nearly a quarter of Americans would be late on mortgages, rent or other bills if a single paycheck were delayed, according to a 2003 poll by Automatic Data Processing.

The proportion of disposable personal income that Americans are putting into savings was about 8% in the 1970s but has tumbled to less than 4% today, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Layoff led to homelessness

All it took was a layoff to push Robert Garner over the edge. About a month ago, the 40-year-old was laid off from his job at a packing plant and could no longer afford the $475 rent for his mobile home in Lima, Ohio. So he packed a backpack with whatever he could carry — clothes, a razor and sleeping bag — and hitchhiked 122 miles to Cincinnati, where he wound up sleeping under a bridge. He sold his car because he couldn't keep up with the payments.

He went to soup kitchens for meals or worked odd jobs to pay for food. Drop-in homeless shelters provided a place for him to shower. In late July, he got a $9.50-an-hour job driving a forklift for the Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries Rehabilitation Center, which also provided him with housing.

"The economy has really taken a toll on manufacturing," Garner says. "It was hard. I don't like to take things from people. I like to help myself. In a way, you get a sense of hopelessness. But I tried to keep a nice, clean appearance."

Other factors putting more families and workers at risk:

•Soaring housing costs. The median price for existing homes is projected to rise 6% in 2003 to $167,800, according to the National Association of Realtors.

"The economy has been in a down phase before, but this time housing prices have really continued to skyrocket. It's been a huge factor in the explosion in homelessness among families," says Mitchell Netburn, director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which coordinates homeless programs in the city and county. The median home price in the Los Angeles area for the first quarter of 2003 was $307,900. That's up 16.2% from the first quarter of 2002.

As prices go up, it becomes harder for the poor to purchase a home or even afford rent.

Nearly 28 million households — one in four — reported spending more than 30% of their income on housing, according to the Millennial Housing Commission. That amount is more than the government deems affordable, the commission reports. Median monthly gross rent in the nation climbed to $602 in 2000 from $481 a month in 1980, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

•Mounting debt. Consumer debt is growing, and more homeowners are taking out loans to pay credit card debts. Foreclosures are up. Last year, there were 1.5 million bankruptcy filings by individuals — the highest on record — up from 289,000 non-business filings in 1980, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute.

Though about 20% of the homeless live in the suburbs, the rise in homelessness is mostly manifesting itself in major urban areas.

In Boston, the number of homeless women increased by 10% in 2002 compared with 2001, according to a city census. In San Francisco, the city reports that the homeless population in 2002 was 8,640, an 18% rise over 2001.

•Lack of financial safety nets. The increase in homelessness and hunger is overwhelming some cities and shelters: An average of 30% of the requests for emergency shelter by homeless people — and 38% of the requests by homeless families — are estimated to have gone unmet in 2002, according to the Conference of Mayors.

In 60% of cities, shelters may have to turn away homeless families because of a lack of resources. Many cities have shelters that specifically accommodate families, but even then, husbands and wives often are separated.

In addition, more welfare recipients are reaching the five-year federal limit for receiving benefits. At the same time, philanthropic donations to homeless services are down along with overall charitable giving. That means there are fewer financial safety nets for workers who are already living on the financial precipice. And unemployment benefits aren't always a resource — in fact, less than half of laid-off workers qualify under varying state eligibility requirements.

David Smith, 46, worked in the stock room at Kmart until he was laid off earlier this year. He applied for public assistance but had already reached his lifetime cap for receiving federal benefits. Unable to pay his rent, Smith went to a homeless shelter. He is now living in housing provided by The Doe Fund, a New York-based organization that employs and supports the homeless in efforts to become self-sufficient through work.

"Without a job, I couldn't pay my rent," Smith says. "It's stressful when you go to the soup kitchen. I want to save money and get my life back on track."

Suit-and-tie homeless

Signs of the increase abound. Alfred Thompson, a job trainer at Goodwill Industries of Kentucky in Louisville, says one of his homeless clients lost his job and is living in his Mercedes, which is paid for, while he seeks employment.

At St. Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan, a mosaic-domed landmark near The Waldorf-Astoria hotel, more than 100 homeless men and women arrive on Monday and Wednesday mornings for a stick-to-your-ribs breakfast of beans-and-franks, corned beef hash or chicken stew.

"We see people dressed in suits and ties come in before they head out to look for work," says the Rev. John David Clarke, director of community ministries. "They can save a buck or two."

In Louisville, job seeker Reginald Cook, 53, dons his best interview clothes and shaves before heading out to try to land a steady job. At night, he calls the Salvation Army Center of Hope his home.

He arrives after 5 p.m. for a shower and reads a bit of a book before lying down on his dormitory-style bed to sleep. Before coming here, he'd lived with his parents in Birmingham, Ala., after being injured on the job. He left in hopes of finding better employment opportunities in Kentucky. Even though it's meant not having a home, he still believes the job opportunities are better in Louisville. "It's hard because quite a number of people are laid off, and you can't find the work,' " Cook says.

For William and Sue Kamstra, it took five months to lose everything. The couple and their three children were living in a three-bedroom home in Bellflower, Calif. They had a two-car garage and fruit trees in the backyard. He earned more than $40,000 a year working in customer service, providing operational support in the music division of Yamaha.

But then they were beset by personal financial problems, which caused them to miss house payments. Their home was foreclosed upon. They planned to rent an apartment, but then William lost his job, and they were unable to get back on their feet. An accident left their van totaled, so they had no way to get around. They stored their belongings and moved to a hotel until their money ran out in June. Now, they spend their nights at the Union Rescue Mission, a Los Angeles shelter.

During the day, William looks for work while Sue takes the children to the library. In 20 years of marriage, this is the first time the Kamstras have been homeless.

"If he hadn't gotten laid off, we'd have rented an apartment. We would have been OK," Sue says. The children expect to resume school in the area this fall.

"This is horrendous. You have a feeling of such alienation," says William, 43. His daughter is 14, and his sons are 12 and 11. "You have this view of homeless people, but I have one beer a year on my birthday, and I don't do drugs. But there are a lot of families here, a lot of children and babies in strollers."

Monday, August 11, 2003

Homeless Leader Loses Shelter Site and Home

Homeless leader loses shelter site and home

By Paul Aron
The Virginia Gazette

Published August 9, 2003

JAMES CITY -- Eastern State Hospital has quashed plans for a homeless shelter there, citing “significant risk” to patient safety. Meanwhile, Patti McKenzie, the point person for the shelter, also finds herself in need of a new home.

The shelter has become a lightning rod this summer for advocates who have pleaded for compassion and critics skeptical of the need.

McKenzie learned Wednesday that the Eastern State plan was dead. The next day she received a notice from her landlord that her own lease would not be renewed.

Hospital director John Favret sent a letter to McKenzie arguing that “having the 80 to 100 homeless people you plan on housing here would present significant risk to the safety of our patients, in my opinion.”

Favret also noted that the county Comprehensive Plan does not call for a homeless shelter, and that “we would not proceed with a project that would not conform to that plan.”

McKenzie had hoped to convert Building 27 into a shelter. It's vacant but used for fire department training. Favret's rejection letter was dated July 31, but McKenzie only learned the news this week, and then from county officials during a meeting.

She annoyed several county officials by taking unannounced several formerly homeless people with her to the meeting. The county expected a discussion on zoning issues, not a public forum.

One woman complained that she had been to Social Services, the county housing office, the United Way and the Salvation Army, but she was told she didn't qualify for help.

Officials stress that James City, York and Williamsburg have a variety of programs to prevent homelessness, and that agencies regularly house temporarily homeless people in local motels. There's no official count of how many homeless are in the area, but most experts estimate only a handful at any given time.

County officials have also criticized McKenzie for refusing to provide information about how she would operate and pay for a shelter. Privately, some have questioned whether she is qualified to run a shelter.

Local officials worry privately that as word of a shelter circulated in the region, it would attract homeless people who might otherwise not come.

McKenzie said she would keep looking for a site, adding that the publicity about Eastern State had “at least created an awareness that there is a need within the regional areas and homelessness does exist.”

She's now looking at land and motels for sale in York and James City.

As of Sept. 30, McKenzie and her husband, Geoffrey, also have to find a new place for themselves. Their landlords, Andy and Charlene Talcott, have given them notice that they would not renew their lease.

The McKenzies have drawn criticism from neighbors in Sycamore Landing, a secluded community at the end of Croaker Road, for providing temporary housing there for some homeless people.

McKenzie said she was prepared to move but will remain in the area. “We do not regret any of the times we have helped somebody have a hot meal, a bed to sleep in or a place for fellowship and rest,” she said. “We don't feel the need to be concerned that we may not find another home because God never closes one door without opening another.”

The McKenzies, who are affiliated with a South Carolina ministry known as Church Builders, moved here last fall.
Since the article ran Sat. about our lease not being renewed, we have had many phone calls in support of our effort. Pastors from churches, members of congregations , the 'homeless' and citizens of Williamsburg have all offered help in this matter. Geoff and I appreciate all the love and support we have been given, but even still our goal is a home for the homeless. This is still our main focus. It looks like it will be York County we will go to, just as Wal-Mart had to do. It is a pity that even Wal-Mart had to go to another county, just 'across the tracks' . Sad that James City County and Williamsburg City keep wanting to push the large employment potentials and cash intake over to York County. I actually can understand Williamsburg City, since it has the least amount of space to build, but James City County has much land opportunity. With the way their Comprehensive Plan keeps business opportunities out of their area, it's a wonder that James City doesn't end up 'homeless' per se soon.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Two other points I wanted to make!

As many awards and praise our Social Service gets for it's help, they also fail, to where they have called me. What a joke! Two months ago, an agent from Social Service, which I won't say his name, but he knows who he is, called and asked "Do you have a shelter yet?" "No" I replied. "Oh, well then can you tell me if you know how to help this family we are working with before they are on the street?" Here is their situation. For one reason or another, they were $3000.00 behind in their rent. They went to Social Services for help. Social Service called upon all their programs and others (this is by what he said and programs he listed) such as HIP (Homeless Intervention Program) but they wouldn't qualify because of bad credit. All their programs at Social Services they were not able to qualify for either. The amount was too high for other agencies. "I have exhausted everything we can offer and then some. But they have already been to court and need to be out within the next couple of weeks. I didn't know what else to do, so I called you to see if you knew of something." Gee, you get paid, you work for this great SS that has many awards and you need my help? "I can contact all the churches to see if they would be willing to do a love donation. But that amount is too high for anyone I know to take on their own." "No, sorry to bother you. I guess there isn't anything that can be done."

Now in our case, we would have sat down with the landlord first to see if anything could be worked out. Especially like a payment plan. We have done this before and it worked. Or we would have made sure somebody went to court with them to help negotiate...that has worked before as well. Unfortunately, I have more times on my hand than they do. We have only worked with 71 people since March. Social Services stays to busy to dedicated THAT (yes sarcastically) much time to somebody that is going to be thrown out on the street with kids. You see, not always does it take a lot of time away from me. If it takes an hour or two to sit down and negotiate, and it is successful, who cares if I miss a few hours of sleep to get paperwork completed. My hours are not 9-5, even though maybe they should be. Everyone knows they can call anytime of the night or day. Sometimes yes, we have had to turn people away due to lack of money, but not help. Also if I am busy, I will ask "Hey if I give you the place I know can help, can you call?" Not only does this show action on their part, but it gives a feeling they were part of the help they received. Even at times, I have had a church or two call needing help. Geeze a while back I had a case with a lady, who was nice, but severely schizophrenic. Now granted this is unusual, and the last time I handled personally this type of case, but she was kicked out of an adult home she was court ordered into. After hours and nowhere to turn, a church called me. By Monday, I contacted a member from our Taskforce for the Homeless who represented the CSB and with his help, we got her into another care facility.

People have questioned our money and where will we get funding. According to many that isn't their business. Since this quarter alone, I have paid out of my own personal pocket $4275 in needs, supplies, rooms and food. That doesn't include the times I front the money and churches pay me back.

But, even with everything against us. The untruths, half truths, angered people, scared people, government who can't bend (gee does Pres. Bush know this because he does support faith based), I won't give up. My inspiration for this is my middle sister. Although we don't always get along, this is the one thing I have learned from her and my older sister...don't back down. I have never seen either of them back down, so why should I? My middle sister has always participated on her own of 'secret santa' per se, helped people with food, shelter and so forth. Even when it has been her last dollar. My older sister has a strength of her own and always moves forward. Many of us never learn from others. But, this I have learned from my sisters...DON'T GIVE UP, DON'T BACK DOWN (well and Tom Petty.)

People are constantly saying, show us a homeless person that has been rehabed back into society who wants to give back to the community. Although I find this to be pompous, I have tried. We (the homeless) have been wanting to do an 'adopt a block' clean up program in town. The time we picked an area, it was taken the next day. Now it has been 3 weeks since we called and have not received a call back. Considering the streets are their homes, why not let us clean it up? It isn't always their mess that is around town. So we have decided to participate in the Day of Caring to paint a local building that needs help.

Many say the homeless do nothing but drink and do drugs, well let us prove otherwise...just give us a chance! Oh I forgot, most homeless are "criminals, druggies, alcoholics, abusers, blacks, illegal aliens, murders etc" according to most perception....well even our local Supervisor stated in the meeting Wed. of county officals he was homeless in 1980 and you gave him a chance (yes he is up for election this year)...even many of executives in town have been homeless and now they work...even government nominees have been homeless and you considered voting for them....EVEN CHRIST WAS HOMELESS AND MANY OF YOU FOLLOW HIM.
Unfortunately, Virginia Gazette hasn't updated their webpage for today's paper or I would put the article in. Maybe later today. Also, I had given a quote about the Eastern State Hospital and homeless shelter; but it was not fully used. So I will put it in this blog.

"To be declined for the use of ESH's Building 27, as a homeless shelter is not a disappointment to me, nor any of our Board Members. It has at least created an awareness in Greater Williamsburg that there is a need within the regional areas and homelessness does exist. Although the churches, United Way, Salvation Army, Williamsburg's Homeless & Indigent and other members that make up the Taskforce for the Homeless have been actively reaching out to the homeless, now many in our community are more informed about the obstacles that face them each day and every night. My efforts, along with the Taskforce for the Homeless will not cease just because ESH will not be the site for a shelter. I am appreciative for Mr. Favret's consideration for the use of the building. We are researching other properties, other counties such as York County and other possibilities. For the past couple of weeks, I personally, have been working with a real estate agent for prospective properties within the 2 counties that would meet the requirements to build a shelter or motels within the area that are for sale. The activity for a potential shelter at ESH has also brought an increase of volunteers for the cause, open many doors and created a stronger force for the homeless. Together we will all continue to strive for the betterment of those whom have no place to rest their heads."

I know I have put this on recently, but I also wanted to make sure it is understood as the quote sent to the paper. Basically the only part that was used from the quote was "It has at least created an awareness in Greater Williamsburg that there is a need within the regional areas and homelessness does exist." and "looking for other land and motels to for sale." Also, the paper stated "I annoyed top county officials by bringing several formerly homeless into the meeting..." Again, untrue. I guess it is comparable to the new Comp. Plan (our building regulations, technically) where many recommendations have stated "define your terms." So it depends on what you call several. If you consider a husband/wife/daughter as one unit and a lady as several, then I guess the quote is correct. And if I annoyed the county officials then is it fair to say they did the same. When the meeting was set up, I was told it would be the main person from Zoning/Developing that we have been in contact with, the head of James City County Social Service, and our district Supervisor. I did say it would be myself and a couple of Board Members, which it was. But, in actuality, they brought 2 others into the meeting as well.

One of the factors in the meeting on Wed. that was brought up was "you need to make this an effort and work together with United Way, Salvation Army and other groups that help the homeless." Geeze how many more times do I have to say this. I even corrected them in the meeting that I do work with all agencies together that want a homeless shelter. But, anytime I mention it in a quote for the paper, it is left out. I guess people want to see me as a rebel, which is not true. I am a middle man to help make the connections for those needing help and places that offer help. This area can be confusing since it is made up of 2 counties and a city. If you don't know what area you are sleeping within, many times you get thrown into a loop amongst the government agencies established to help. Unlike United Way, Salvation Army and the local churches, that their concern is you need help within the Greater Williamsburg area. But, I also sit on the Board of the Taskforce For The Homeless, which is made up of concerned citizens, the CSB, Social Service, churches, United Way and Salavtion Army. Does this sound like I don't work with them? We, as a Taskforce, have come up with other ideas that we are investigating for a potential shelter as well. We have always stated this needs to be an interdenominational effort. Whether we get a shelter as a group or somebody gets one on their own is not the concern; the concern is getting a shelter.

The Social Service and officials claim there is only a handful of homeless so why not get a program that will help them, instead of a shelter. First what is wrong with this comment is that based on a town that is made up of 2 counties and a city, each area can pass it between the other as "it's not our problem. You live across the line of our county. So you must go to..." This to me and others who go for assistance is an easy way to 'pass the one with down luck.' And I must say, the city aspect has been better at actually trying to help those who come for aide. Secondly, they already have a program that is designed to help and Social Services even stated, "We are govern by Federal laws. They can not be bent." So why try to establish another program that will be governed by Federal Laws that the criteria is so structured, it keeps people from being helped. My point: why keep people stuck in a loop to where they walk out with no help, feel like dirt and still on the street?" But, they made it clear they do NOT want a shelter in their county. Many as I have said before have tried, all have failed. I don't consider this a failure, just a setback. Also, they forget come the end of this year, a couple of the weekly motels the working homeless live in are closing permanently. This creates almost 200 people, including children, on the streets, but I guess that extra strip mall is worth the price for a child to go without a place to live. Oh and even if they have a car, it is illegal to sleep in your car here.

Now we at least know, like always in the past, it will be up to God, not the government to succeed. Just as the government sat by while each year a local park was used to hold a national meeting of Witches; it took the churches and God to bring that to a stop. I guess the groups of Witches were paying visitors that brought income into this area, to help cover people's saleries.

Friday, August 08, 2003

for some reason my archives aren't showing, but I will try to fix this soon
This afternoon, due to such heavy rain, Geoff and Robert had to come back to the house from Geoff's work. Robert had kept asking us about "Pay It Forward." Wondering what it was all about and why do we keep refusing for him to pay us back for anything we have done for him (including paying for his medications.) So, since it was raining, it was a good time in the afternoon for a movie. He was so stuck on the movie, he kept leaning in, analyzing and sitting back into the chair; while he was hanging onto each word. At the end, which for those of you who have not seen the movie, I won't tell, he said "Oh that is based on God's belief to pass it on to others." Well yes. And he said, "I guess I have to find somebody to pay it forward to."

As I stated in my last blog earlier, we will leave it up to God to show us a home for us and He did. I called today about a house I was told might be going on the market shortly. The homeowner called me and gave me the specs. It is large enough (3BR 2Baths) and meets everything we would like and need. OK time to through the wrench in, I thought. I informed the gentleman our family situation. "My husband has 2 boys that we see every other weekendd, sometimes less. Then it would also be my husband and myself and...well we have a friend, Robert (who is no longer homeless and off the street and has 67 days of sobriety by his choice and God's strength) that is under our health care. He is on a heart transplant list and needs very special meals cooked and medical watch 24 hrs a day. This has become hard on his family and they are gone in the daytime, so then he is with us. Night time has become harder for everyone involved so we have decided the next place we move to, he is going to need to live with us as well.?" My heart pounded while I waited for the response. Then he said "Well, I guess the 3 bedrooms is what you will be needing. I know how hard that can be to need medical attention and you don't have to be old to require it." "Well, yes Social Services is wanting to suggest an assisted living place for Robert, but he is too young and 'healthy' for it, yet he still needs the care, watch and special food prepared. But he is only 40." We talked for some time about Robert and the potential future landlord said "Well it is about the same as having a mother in law needing to live with you, so I don't see any problem with it. He is just blessed to know somebody wants to be there for him."

OK obstacle one over with. Now for obstacle two. "I still want to be upfront with you. I work with the homeless and this is what I do. This is mine and my husband's ministry and my full time job. Even at times I do have them over for Bible Study or to do laundry or shower in the daytime. And yes, I am the one they write about in the paper...Do you think this will be a problem?" "The house is 2 stories and has an attached garage; there is a fireplace in the living room, but I need to do some repairs on the first floor before I can rent it out." Oh no he went past my question! Again I asked "do you think this would be a problem?" "No unfortunately, because somebody is still living in the house, I can't show you, but as soon as they move out on the first I will make sure you are the first on my list to show it. But, it will be ready by the time your move out date comes around."

"OK what about dogs, small dogs?" This should be easy since I am past the other obstacles. "No problem. We were going to not allow dogs this time around, but 2 small dogs should be fine. And I am sorry what you have gone through by what I have read. And sorry you have to move. I will call you by the first so the 3 of you can come see the house." Now I just continue to pray that God will see this through. We already know the neighborhood and it is very nice and even members from our church live there as well.

In the meantime, we will start packing this weekend since it typically takes us over a month to pack everything. One of the local church's youth group has volunteered to come and help (actually it was to move the donations into storage, but now they have agreed to help pack us up some.) Another church group will be coming the following week and a third the first week of Sept. A few of our friends we work with (yes the homeless) have also offered their time to help. Maybe this time around it won't take 2 28ft uhauls and 2 17ft trucks. Now since we have a truck, we can just start moving boxes and things we don't need into storage and keep only the neccessary furniture out that we need.

As I have said, God doesn't close a door without opening another!
We were notified this week, the building at ESH will not be offered as a site for a shelter. To be declined for the use of ESH's Building 27, as a homeless shelter is not a disappointment to me, nor any of our Board Members. It has at least created an awareness in Greater Williamsburg that there is a need within the regional areas and homelessness does exist. Although the churches, United Way, Salvation Army, Williamsburg's Homeless & Indigent and other members that make up the Taskforce for the Homeless have been actively reaching out to the homeless, now many in our community are more informed about the obstacles that face them each day and every night. My efforts, along with the Taskforce for the Homeless will not cease just because ESH will not be the site for a shelter. I am appreciative for Mr. Favret's consideration for the use of the building. We are researching other properties, other counties such as York County and other possibilities. For the past couple of weeks, I personally, have been working with a real estate agent for prospective properties within the 2 counties that would meet the requirements to build a shelter or motels within the area that are for sale. The activity for a potential shelter at ESH has also brought an increase of volunteers for the cause, open many doors and created a stronger force for the homeless. Together we will all continue to strive for the betterment of those whom have no place to rest their heads.
So much time has passed since Suz and I have been able to blog, but so much has occurred. I have been speaking at different churches, making awareness and with government agencies of a place for a shelter. And again we have had to red flag somebody. We have never worked with this person, yet they have been telling churches and others they were working with us for help. Unfortunately, they have been abusing the sytem.

Bobert has been going out and speaking as well. It seems he has been able to reach out to another gentleman, although he is not on the street, he has an alcohol problem.

Yesterday our landlords notified us that they will not be renewing our lease come Sept. 30. Although our landlords are nice compassionate people, this is a business that they have formed as rental property agents. I don't take their decision personally, but as a business decision. The neighbors obviously put great pressure on them with their many complaining phone calls , the many calls to zoning (even though we weren't breaking any zoning laws) and even the pressure of calling Jim Kennedy on several occassions for the past few months (which Mr. Kennedy mentioned in our meeting about a shelter this past Wednesday). Whenever a neighbor would complain to zoning, a rep from zoning would contact me or come over, but they never found anything we were doing wrong under their codes.

Anytime we have had any guests over to our home, they never bothered any of our neighbors. Our friends always respected our neighbors' privacy and property. None of our efforts should have had any effect on our neighbors. It is sad that some our neighbors have complained and pointed fingers at us while others have broken county zoning codes (one or more houses were being rented out as a weekly getaways), rules/regulations (dogs roaming free throughout the neighborhood), and some even have long-term house guests. The difference between most of our neighbors and us is that they own their homes and we rent, as though that makes us less equal than they. This is not to impune everyone here: the two with whom we attend church have been openly supportive the whole time, and there are others who were, at the very least, silent, choosing not to participate in the constant barrage against us.

We have been prepared for this to come at the end of our lease, however. A couple of weeks ago, we started working with a real estate agent to look for a place to move in October. Even though we like the house we live in, it is much smaller than the standards to which we are accustomed, and can not accomodate our personal belongings and furniture, due to it's size. This is another reason we found it humorous when zoning was sent to check our house and barn: A neighbor had complained that we might be housing people in our barn out back, but as full as it is with our extra furniture that would be impossible, not to mention that our attic is also overflowing with our extra pieces and boxes.

But are we upset, or do we feel nervous or regret any of this? No. We do not regret any of the times we have helped somebody have a hot meal, a bed to sleep in or a place for fellowship and rest. We don't feel the need to be concerned that we may not find another home because God never closes one door without opening another. So for now, we leave it to God to provide, as He always does.