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."

Saturday, January 31, 2004


Geeze the editor at the Daily Press is still trying to deny there is a homeless problem here in Williamsburg. To me, even if there is one person who is homeless, there is a problem, but that is just my opinion. Realisticly, there is over 30 people who either live(d) on the streets, in their cars, in the woods or under the bridge. Then you have the homeless that live in the weekly motels (the working weekly homeless who can afford a place to live, but can't get a place due to credit or high amount of deposit.) They total around 120 + people. Sounds to me like there is a problem when people have to pay $140+ for a motel room, yet can't put that toward rent in an apartment or a house.

The homeless: Peninsula model works but is not whole solution

January 31, 2004

As the Williamsburg area decides what to do about its homeless problem - or even if it has one - it has a model to consider. The community-based shelter programs in Newport News and Hampton offer an approach that has merit.

Hampton's homeless are served by "A Night's Welcome," run by Hampton Ecumenical Lodgings and Provisions. The key organization in Newport News and some surrounding communities is LINK, the Living Interfaith Network, which coordinates PORT (for People Offering Resources Together).

In both, shelter is not a building but a rotating welcome at churches, synagogues and temples. During fall and winter, congregations take turns opening their doors to the homeless. Often, they team up with other churches that help with meals, supervision and supplies.

Additional services, including referrals to agencies that help the homeless get their lives back on track, are offered. Police and social service agencies help out.

The advantages are many:

The program is inexpensive, since the facility, food and much of the manpower are contributed by congregations (drawing on community resources like the Foodbank of the Virginia Peninsula).

It's flexible. If few people use it, congregations can scale back their volunteer rosters and menus. If there's a big demand, they can ratchet up. But as the Peninsula organizations have discovered, an overnight census of 35 to 50 or more can be accommodated in local church buildings.

It's hands-on, involving many people helping their neighbors. That involvement is limited and of short duration, which, to be realistic, makes it appealing to more people. There's much to be said for this face-to-face way of caring for the needy in our communities, as opposed to delegating the job of compassion to "professionals" and removing it to an agency, whether government or privately supported. The opportunity to spend time with people who have drawn life's short straw can be an eye-opener for more fortunate people, and an invaluable lesson in citizenship for young people.

But this model isn't perfect. It puts people back on the streets after breakfast. It provides the bare minimum: shelter, heat, food, maybe a smile. But the homeless need much more, from basic logistical resources (transportation, a place to shower and do laundry, get a haircut, receive mail and stow belongings) to more specialized services (help with job training and search, health needs and, for many, mental health and substance abuse problems). It's hard to look for a job if there's no place to make calls, and it's hard to work without clean clothes and presentable hygiene. Many homeless people come with underlying problems that must be addressed if there is any hope of building a life not lived on the streets. But because programs like PORT encourage people to return every night, they offer the continuity around which interventions can be delivered.

The Williamsburg area already has in place one key element of the puzzle: prevention. The county and city have programs to help residents with the crises, financial and otherwise, that can plunge them into homelessness. They also help the homeless get housing. But for those not caught by that net, a rotating

shelter program may be the best alternative to streets, parks and overpasses.


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