“It’s about rebuilding lives,” Salvation Army Captain Debbie Bower said Thursday afternoon.
That sums up the work done by the Historic Triangle Housing, Employment and Linkages Project (HELP), a coalition of various safety net providers including local government agencies, the United Way, the Salvation Army, churches, schools, and nonprofits who work together to coordinate wrap-around services for local homeless families and individuals.
HELP started out as a pilot project about two-and-a-half years ago, with the aim of helping about 100 homeless people (or about 25 families) get connected to coordinated assistance and get back on their feet, for good. Now it has proved its worth and will continue as long as funding exists.
“No one of us alone can deal with the problem of homelessness,” said Peter Walentisch, Williamsburg’s director of human services. Until HELP was created, organizations used a “band-aid approach” to serving the neediest people, he said. One group would offer food, one would offer some money, one might give medical assistance or a short period of lodging, but the homeless have a multitude of situations to deal with and don’t always know where to look for help, he said.
“This time, we tried a different approach, a different way of doing business among ourselves,” Walentisch explained.
HELP rebuilds every facet of people’s lives so they can take care of themselves again. It allows for service providers to communicate about and monitor clients and deliver a variety of assistance without duplication. At Thursday’s second annual meeting the proof was in the numbers, and in the stories from women in the program.
Since January 2009, HELP has assisted 99 individuals, including 20 families and 22 single men. The group has provided 30,700 nights of lodging (the Salvation Army has 12 apartments for the purpose) and secured 15 jobs for clients.
One child who was planning to drop out of high school to earn money for his family was able to stay in school and graduate.
Some clients have gotten GEDs and one client has learned to read.
There are 11 families that have graduated to independent living and 10 clients who have maintained growing savings accounts.
One client has a whole new set of teeth, and because of that she was able to get a job and help take care of her young son.
Agencies involved with HELP assisted 12 families in getting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (a government aid program for people who work but make very little money) and helped 19 families get food stamps.
Over 50 percent of the more than $364,000 spent on the HELP program went directly to client assistance, Bower said.
HELP has connected people to life skills classes, recovery services, child care, employment and legal services.
Women who are currently part of the HELP program spoke at the meeting and shared their stories. One, Michelle, said she has gotten into drug and alcohol rehab. She said before HELP, she had lost custody of her daughter and was ready to end her life. Now she is sober and back in contact with her daughter.
Paula said she and her son were homeless and lived in and out of motels for four years. She’s now in one of the Salvation Army’s transitional apartments. “To have a home is just so important,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Virginia is the woman whose son had planned on dropping out of high school. He’s now a graduate, she said Thursday, and she has recently gotten an additional job thanks to HELP. She also has a savings account and a car, and is in the process of graduating from the HELP program.
The next steps for the program are to continue to secure funding and grow. The group is also looking to establish business, landlord and service partners.
For more information on Historic Triangle HELP, to volunteer or to donate, visit the United Way of Greater Williamsburg website which serves as the fiscal agent for the program.