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Staunton: SAW Housing Coalition invites community to next housing summit Thursday

Sign showing eviction filings for 2022
Photo by Kate Simon for the Community Foundation’s “This is Home” project. Image courtesy Chris Lassiter.

A local coalition addressing housing concerns is ready to roll out first steps of an action plan.

The SAW Housing Summit: Next Steps is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon at The Blackburn Inn in Staunton on Thursday, June 27, 2024.

In October 2023, Augusta Health, Valley Community Services Board, The Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission and The Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge hosted the inaugural SAW Housing Summit.

The forthcoming one-day summit will update the community on the coalition’s work since the two-day summit last October and introduce a plan for work yet to come.

“The October 2023 Summit brought us together to explore how housing insecurity affects our community, and to gather the collective wisdom of a wider audience,” Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge CEO Dan Layman said. “That served as our fuel for crafting an organizational structure for our work ahead.  We are convening the community now to introduce that structure, as well as the data and strategies from the regional housing study, to begin mapping out our next steps.”

While some signs of hope in housing trends exist, concerning trends are also apparent.

“Right now, there are 25 individuals in 12 households on the shelter waitlist,” said Lydia Campbell, community-based services manager at the Valley Community Services Board. “While it’s positive that the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness went down by 11% from 2023 to 2024, I don’t think the reduction is significant enough to say that we’re experiencing a downward trend.

According to Campbell, the bigger concern is a 27 percent increase in individuals experiencing homelessness between 2023 and 2024.

“We have to figure out the solutions for everyone,” Campbell said.

In the nine months since the initial summit, the SAW Housing Coalition has hosted a series of monthly Lunch & Learn talks addressing various housing issues. They also worked with an expanded steering committee to craft a structure for the work ahead.

Now, the coalition is inviting the community to take part in the next steps.

“We are excited to come together again with our community partners for the 2024 SAW Housing Summit: The Next Steps,” said Krystal Moyer, administrative director of community outreach and partnerships at Augusta Health. “From the event, we will create working groups focused on four critical areas; housing stability, housing stock for rental and home ownership and self-sufficiency. At the end of the summit, we will ask attendees to commit to action around one of these key focuses to move from talking to doing.”

As part of the summit, Mel Jones and Jonathan Knopf will present their findings from a two-year regional housing study commissioned by the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission.

“We are excited to partner with the consultants for the Regional Housing Study, Mel Jones and Jonathan Knopf, on this event,” said Olivia Wright, business development manager for the Shenandoah Valley Partnership. “Mel and Jonathan will provide a data overview of findings from the study that ground our work in the housing challenges and opportunities we face, and help us chart a path forward toward solutions.”

Anna Leavitt, director of Community Action Partners Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro (CAPSAW), believes the work around finding housing solutions is work that is best done together.

“Housing impacts everyone in one way or another, and no single organization could successfully address a problem this large,” Leavitt said. “Partnerships allow us to coordinate resources, collaborate with existing programs, and draw from the expertise and lived experience of a larger portion of our community than would be possible alone.”

The Blackburn Inn is at 301 Greenville Avenue, Staunton.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.