Local agencies, businesses partner to provide motel rooms for the homeless

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Valley Community Services Board staff members at Days Inn on 4-13-20 awaiting the first group of guests. Photo courtesy WARM.

Days Inn Waynesboro and an undisclosed hotel in Staunton partnered with Valley Community Services Board and Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry to make discounted rooms and breakfast available for more than 50 homeless individuals.

The temporary emergency motel funding, process, and placements are overseen by Valley Community Services Board, with daily operations, supplies, and staffing provided by WARM.

Together, the agencies completed motel move-ins on April 13 after weeks of planning and working with state agencies to secure emergency motel funds.

For daily operations, WARM has partnered with Fishin Pig, Waynesboro Family YMCA, Weaver Insurance, Keevil Kitchen, Westminster Presbyterian Church, First Baptist Church, and others to provide food and supplies.

WARM is also incurring unexpected costs with the effort. Debra Freeman-Belle, who serves as vice chair for the region’s homeless response system and is executive director of WARM, hopes the community will continue to support WARM through tax-deductible financial donations.

“In times past, homeless services programs worked in silos, but we have moved to a community-wide approach that makes this type of partnership possible,” Freeman-Belle said.

The Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro region received more than $30,000 from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to assist the unsheltered. Additional monies from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and Substance Abuse, and Mental Health Services Administration were reallocated to supplement homeless services funds.

The state and federal funds will provide motel rooms through the beginning of May, but additional funding is needed to continue providing shelter through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Additionally, the agency reallocated the balance of their Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration homeless services funds to supplement the costs.

The state and federal funds will provide current motel rooms through the beginning of May if additional funding is not secured. Valley Community Services Board and WARM continue to work with local and state partners to request additional funding for the Coronavirus crisis and afterward.

Outside of the crisis, their goal is to increase housing resources for community members experiencing homelessness.

“We have supportive services in place to do our best to ensure that every episode of homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring,” said Lydia Campbell, chair of the region’s homeless services and a supervisor at Valley Community Services Board. “Lots of people want to help the homeless, and we need that. We need our valuable emergency shelters and partners. Bbut we have also collectively shifted our focus to ending homelessness.”

Since 2018, Valley Community Services Board has served as the lead agency for the area’s homeless response system through a local planning group known as Valley Homeless Connection. WARM also serves as a lead agency for the group.

The planning group includes more than 15 agencies and programs, including Valley Mission, New Directions Center, Project Horizon, Augusta Health, Veterans Affairs, that work to build a more robust, collaborative, and better-funded shelter and housing system for the cities of Staunton, Waynesboro, and Lexington and the counties of Augusta, Highland, and Rockbridge.

The group’s coordinated entry system recently implemented a bed reservation and waiting list process to ensure that, when a bed becomes open during the pandemic, individuals and families that meet the state’s prioritization criteria are served first by local providers. They will also continue to focus on partnering with landlords to provide permanent housing options for community members who have the resources to maintain stable housing.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has really shown our capacity to work together and the great need for housing,” Campbell said. “We have some funding and additional HUD funding coming this fall for permanent housing, so we really need private landlords who are willing to partner with us to give individuals and families a second chance.”

The group’s service area is determined by state and federal housing departments that utilize Continuums of Care and Local Planning Groups to establish strategic and collaborative systems to coordinate housing and shelter services, funding, resources, and goals that aim to end homelessness.

Over the past two years, the group has made significant progress from being nearly dormant to a collaborative system that state agencies have complimented as an emerging success that other small planning groups could model after.

To partner with homeless and housing services providers, receive help navigating SAW’s homeless services, or to be placed on the shelter or motel reservation list, community members should call Valley Homeless Connection’s Homeless Services Line at 540-213-7347.

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