RICHMOND – A Place to Start was honored January 26 by Virginia Supportive Housing (VSH) for its nearly flawless success statistics since its inception five years ago. The program helps chronically homeless Richmonders find housing and support. The celebration comes just a day before Richmond’s Homeward’s “point-in-time” count—a bi-annual data collection that A Place to Start uses in their research.
Since 1988, Virginia Supportive Housing has offered permanent housing to homeless Virginians around the state. Five years ago, the organization noticed that homelessness was a still problem for the community. “We noticed that there was a certain group of people who were falling through the cracks and we didn’t know how to help,” said Alice Tousignant, Executive Director of VSH. In fact, about 15% of the homeless population just couldn’t seem to be helped. Alice said that one of the biggest misconceptions about homeless people is that they want to be homeless. After intense research and interviews, they found that this was not the case. “[The homeless] are people,” she said, “They want homes and security just like anyone else.”
The organization found a program successful in New York called Pathways to Housing. Alice knew it would be successful in Richmond, too. Using Pathways to Housing as a guide, VSH launched A Place to Start in 2007.
Before A Place to Start’s recent success, homelessness had proven to be costly for the entire community. When the homeless are sick, they go to the emergency room; when they are cold, they intentionally seek to get arrested. It is the only way that they can achieve food and shelter. Emergency room visits and incarcerations are expensive, averaging approximately $45,000 annually per person. A Place to Start cuts down on those costs, since they are using funds already allocated for subsidized housing in combination with the person’s own income. A Place to Start estimates that its organization has already saved the community over $320,000.
The impact of A Place to Start on the individual lives of the homeless is priceless. One of the speakers at the Wednesday event, Jerome Roberts, credits the organization with saving his life. His years on the streets were harsh. “I struggled like a dog,” he said. He had to eat out of trashcans and took shelter under cars and in alleyways. Before entering the program he suffered from frostbite, mental illness, and battled drug addiction. Since 2008, he has been able to secure an apartment and has stayed out of hospitals and jails. “It is a great support system here, and I have a peace of mind knowing that I have a place to sleep. They have saved my life.”
The homeless get homes—but the help doesn’t end there. Almost half of the homeless suffer from drug addiction or mental health issues. A Place to Start also works with Homeward, the Daily Planet, the Community Services Boards of Richmond, Chesterfield and Henrico and the Virginia Housing Development Authority to provide healthcare and other services to its clients. The programs working together have helped support the people in housing in order to maintain their success. The reports released by A Place to Start Wednesday showed that of 58 people housed in the program, only one person has returned to the streets–an astonishing 98% success rate. “This program works for this population,” Alice went on, “[the public] should have hope that we are making headway and making a difference.”
If you are interested in making a donation or volunteering your time to A Place to Start, please visit http://www.virginiasupportivehousing.org/programs/housing-access.php.