By Michael Martz
It's not "mission accomplished," but Gov. Bob McDonnell says his administration has made a sizable dent in homelessness in Virginia.
The number of homeless people declined by 16 percent in Virginia in the past three years, the governor announced Monday.
"Let's call it a start," McDonnell said at a news conference at St. Joseph's Villa in Henrico County, where a pilot project began three years ago that focused on moving homeless people quickly into housing instead of shelters.
Quanasia Harrison and her family were among those who benefited from the rapid re-housing pilot project, funded by a grant from The Community Foundation to Homeward and Flagler Housing and Homeless Services at St. Joseph's Villa.
Harrison and her husband, Jervathan, lost their jobs two years ago and quickly ran out of money to pay bills, including rent. They were living with family when they found out about the program, which settled them in an apartment in South Richmond, helped them pay their bills and gave their son, Jayshawn, then 7, a stable residence for school.
"The next time you think about somebody who's homeless, it's not just the person with a cup on the corner," Harrison said.
The decline in homelessness is consistent across a number of categories. The number of homeless individuals in Virginia fell from 9,080 in 2010 to 7,625 this year, according to data reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The number of people in homeless households with children fell from 3,742 to 3,093, or 17.3 percent. The percentage declines were even greater for people with chronic substance abuse issues (30 percent) and veterans (18 percent). The number of homeless people with serious mental illnesses dropped 7 percent.
The factors behind the decline include seed money from federal stimulus funds; collaboration by the private, nonprofit and public sectors; and investments and leadership by the state, beginning with an executive order on housing policy that McDonnell signed less than four months into his term.
"What the state has done is really incredible and really made a big difference," said Kelly King Horne, executive director of Homeward, a nonprofit coordinator of homeless services in the Richmond region.
Executive Order 10 set as a mission to better meet the need of homeless Virginians by reducing chronic homelessness and investing in transitional and permanent housing, while maintaining the emergency safety net.
The McDonnell administration created a coordinating council, aided by his senior economic adviser, Robert C. Sledd, that set a goal of reducing homelessness by 15 percent during the governor's term.
Subsequently, the state has shifted money that had been set aside for emergency homeless shelters into other programs to prevent people from slipping into homelessness or help them get out of it quickly.
The governor and General Assembly also appropriated $1 million in the current and next budget to help people facing the biggest barriers -- substance abuse, mental health and developmental disabilities -- find permanent supportive housing.
The state also included $500,000 in each year of the two-year budget for rapid re-housing services, which have shown a much higher rate of success at a much lower cost than relying on emergency shelters and transitional housing.
Since 2010, for example, 97 percent of the families helped by the Flagler pilot program have kept their housing or moved into something better.
"That's a great bargain and a great success rate," McDonnell said.
(c)2013 Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.)