Is it better to be homeless in the city than almost homeless in the county?
Lucinda Jones founded Ashland Supportive Housing in January 2010 to provide emergency housing assistance for Hanover residents on the verge of homelessness. Many clients are families working low-income jobs who live in cramped motel rooms as a last resort.
Because the nonprofit provides rent assistance, it should be eligible for federal grant money, Jones says. But the grant money designated for Hanover, she recently discovered, has been going to large Richmond-based homeless-services organizations. “They’re not out here in Hanover, so how do they get Hanover money?” Jones says.
Kelly King Horne, executive director of Homeward, disagrees with Jones’ assessment that Richmond agencies are unfairly claiming money meant for the county. It comes down to numbers, she says. Homeward is the area’s homeless-services umbrella organization and helps distribute funds.
In Homeward’s database, only about 34 homeless people — between 1 and 3 percent of the region’s homeless — reported that their last permanent address was in Hanover. So when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allots $3 million to groups fighting homelessness in the Richmond area, only a small fraction is designated for Hanover. The regional approach works better than divvying money up by location, King Horne says: “By pooling it together, we can do more with less.”
“Just because you have an organization whose office, their headquarters, is in the city, doesn’t mean they can’t serve the surrounding counties,” says Alice Tousignant, executive director of Virginia Supportive Housing. In the last two years, that organization has spent $384,641 in federal homelessness-prevention stimulus funds to help 257 people in 88 Hanover households; plus, in the last year, it has helped nine more people using state money.
But Jones says that when she refers almost-homeless Hanover families to Richmond-based organizations, those families often come right back to her and say no one could help them. In November, Jones received more than 60 calls from people in need. Her organization, which provides small rental-assistance grants of not more than $250, could help only about a third.
King Horne says there’s just not enough money for emergency assistance for people on the verge of homelessness — no matter where they live. The goal shouldn’t be to slice the public-money pie thinly so every nonprofit gets a piece, she says: “The goal is to serve as many families as you can.”
“I agree with that,” Jones says. The problem, she says, is that the same nonprofits get the pie every year: “And yet they’re not helping people out here.”