We can’t continue putting Band-Aids on the issue’: Addressing Charlottesville’s rising homeless population during the affordable housing crisis

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The Haven serves as a shelter for the homeless population of Charlottesville, who may otherwise have nowhere else to turn to for assistance.

Being more than simply a physical space to congregate, The Haven also hosts the offices of Peoples and Congregations Engaged in Ministry — a shelter that utilizes local churches a place to sleep in colder months — and the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless — a non-profit coalition of local organizations who work together to end homelessness in the region.
These services — along with laundry services, showers, mailing addresses and storage — exist to aid the homeless and fill gaps that may exist. The central focus of The Haven is to serve as a launchpad for guests’ transformation from homelessness to sustainable living.
The number of people in this metropolitan region who were served for homelessness rose from 283 to 440 between 2013 and 2018.
This rapid uptick is due to the rapid increase of the region’s affordable housing crisis in recent years. The region is in need of over 4,000 affordable units.
“I think that the housing needs in the community are more significant now, and that is contributing to the rise in the number of people who fall into homelessness,” Haro said.
The homeless population in Charlottesville is largely comprised of adults between 25 and 54.
“There’s different needs that exist in the homeless population,” Haro said. “It’s not a homogenous population, if you will. It’s often just people like you and I who fall on hard times and there’s different needs across the whole spectrum.”
Thirty-four percent of homeless adults in the Charlottesville area are women, and 25 percent of homeless adults in the area were victims of domestic violence at some point in their past.
From Haro’s perspective, all forms of homelessness are a prevailing issue that cannot be resolved by temporary efforts, but rather by long-term work that involves generating an adequate and affordable housing stock for the area’s homeless population to transition into.
“Housing solutions are the answer to homelessness,” Haro said. “We can’t continue putting Band-Aids on the issue. We need to deal with the issue by addressing the ultimate solution, which is increased housing resources.”
Stephen Hitchcock, executive director at The Haven, said services such as Region Ten — which assists those struggling with mental health, disability or substance abuse — and the Departments of Social Services and Veterans Affairs connect with guests as part of the organization’s “Housing First” mission, acknowledging homelessness as a housing crisis. Hitchcock said the shelter-based approach does not adequately address the sheer lack of affordable housing at the root of homelessness.
The lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living in Charlottesville leave many in need of The Haven’s assistance.
“That is the main thing in Charlottesville, is housing,” James said. “The cost of living is sky high, and low income housing’s very rare … Charlottesville’s not that big, so most of the people that’s homeless would be here [at The Haven].
From October through mid-April, guests at The Haven in need of shelter for the night are taken in by PACEM. A rotation of 80 local congregations and community groups provide respite for those without sufficient protection from inclement weather.

PACEM executive director Jayson Whitehead said the need for these services has been increasing in recent years. During operations, PACEM hosts an average of 42 men and 13 women. Whitehead, like the city’s other experts on the subject, said the high demand is most directly related to Charlottesville’s shortage of affordable housing units.

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In downtown Charlottesville, The Haven stands tall as an inviting sanctuary to all those who come across it. Outside the church building converted to a homeless shelter, a sign reads, “Everyone needs a place to start.”

The City has struggled to address the affordable housing crisis in recent years.
A proposal for a $50 million bond to rectify the crisis was never directly addressed by City Council, and it is unclear why councilors chose not to publicly address it. Additionally, the key determinants of where high-density and affordable housing units can be developed in the City — is expected to take up to three years to complete.

Habitat, TJACH, the Charlottesville Redevelopment Housing Association and a number of other organizations in the area have recently taken action under the umbrella of the Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition; a centralized housing hub for individuals and families who need housing assistance.
“[What] we are really pushing and focusing on is the development of what we call a centralized housing hub,” Kawachi said. “We’re trying to create a hub where folks can come, because that is one of the primary things we’ve heard from individuals who are having housing issues or are experiencing homelessness is that they have nowhere to go.”

The University has done little in recent years to help the City alleviate the problem — however, the Brandon Avenue on-Grounds housing complex is slated to open in August 2019, creating space for 500 students and shifting some of the demand away from off-Grounds. University President Jim Ryan’s community working group named affordable housing as their number two priority area behind jobs and wages in a report released last week, saying that University officials and administration “should partner with housing providers to help ensure there is safe, quality, affordable housing for all residents in the region.”

Grant Duffield, the executive director of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, says a partnership between the City and the University could help streamline valuable resources to aid in the creation of more affordable units and the generation of a living wage.
…While local organizations are doing what their resources permit them to in order to care for and support the local homeless population, their leaders agree that affordable housing is the solution to Charlottesville’s dynamic homelessness problem, with both strong social and fiscal implications in balance.
“It’s actually cheaper to house individuals and families than it is to just manage their homelessness,” Hitchcock said. “There’s also this fiscal component…. Most people think ‘oh, housing people that’s gotta be so expensive,’ instead of keeping them in a shelter. But it’s the opposite.”

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