HomeAid Northern Virginia helps area to adapt to new needs of homeless people

November 23, 2011

The face of homelessness across the nation is changing. In Northern Virginia, one Fairfax County organization is helping to adapt to new needs.

There are nearly 3,500 homeless people throughout Northern Virginia, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. A 2010 Fairfax County study showed more than 1,500 homeless people in Fairfax County alone.

“But the homeless are no longer who you think they are,” said Christy Eaton, director of Chantilly-based nonprofit HomeAid Northern Virginia. “A lot of people have the stereotype that the homeless person is the individual guy on the street begging for change, but that’s no longer the majority demographic of today’s homeless population.

“Today, homelessness affects more people who never thought they would ever be homeless; for example, a family of five with both parents out of work who have lost their home and have no safety net. Sixty percent of those helped by HomeAid are children.”

HomeAid builds and renovates homeless shelters, transitional houses, food banks, medical clinics, counseling centers and other facilities. Builders receive tax credits for the time and resources they donate to each project.

“For all projects that HomeAid approves, our responsibility is to identify a builder captain that will serve as the key project leader in completing the construction and renovations,” Eaton said. “Because HomeAid was founded out of the home-building industry, we have many relationships that we can leverage to bring the right builder captain to the right project.”

The builder captain works with fellow care providers, the architect and other professionals to ensure the needs and expectations of the shelter organization are met in the project, Eaton said.

HomeAid Northern Virginia, in its 10th year, has completed 65 projects, totaling 181,000 square feet and worth a retail investment of $10 million, Eaton said.

“HomeAid’s partners and resources help to significantly reduce the construction costs to care provider organizations, thereby allowing the organizations to redirect those dollars back into programs and services for these homeless families and individuals,” she said.

The organization recently arranged for Winchester Homes and 12 trade partners to renovate a Reston townhouse that will be occupied by a low-income family through the Reston Interfaith.

“Regardless of the economic season, HomeAid has been there for Reston Interfaith,” said Tim McMahon, vice president of housing and community development for Reston Interfaith Housing Corp. “The spirit of the volunteer builders is inspiring — good people giving back and providing quality craftsmanship.”

The $30,000 townhouse renovation included a new kitchen, upgraded bathrooms, new flooring and fresh paint throughout.

“We are just thrilled that HomeAid and Winchester Homes took on this project,” said Nicole DeLima, property and asset manager at Reston Interfaith. “It’s expensive to turn over a new unit, and they’ve helped make it a great home for a family who can now move right in. We’ve done several projects with HomeAid, and Winchester has also been great to work with. Their hearts are in the right place, and we’re so grateful.”

HomeAid recently arranged for Stanley Martin Homes to fully renovate a five-bedroom, two-bath transitional shelter that houses four adults and serves as an office for an on-site case manager for Alexandria-based nonprofit Christian Relief Services. The $110,000 project focused on improving the building’s energy efficiency and its livability.

“We’re all just amazed at how it looks — it’s beautiful, and we’re so pleased,” said Lynn Thomas, director of service enriched housing for Christian Relief Services. “We’ve done more than five projects with HomeAid, and they’ve all been incredible. But I have to say, this is the best one yet.”

Mary Agee, president and chief executive of Oakton-based Northern Virginia Family Services, said the changing face of homelessness has created a tremendous need for shelters and transitional housing to undergo renovations enabling the accommodation of families. She said HomeAid Northern Virginia is at the forefront of making those needs a reality.

“Many shelters and transitional housing facilities are set up to house either men or women, in terms of sleeping arrangements and bathroom facilities,” she said. “Today, you have many more families with children who also need transitional shelter. Half the residents in shelters across the country are under 18, and here in Northern Virginia, we are seeing larger and larger families.

“Organizations like HomeAid are helping to get these families transitional housing that they can use to get back up on their own feet without splitting them up.”

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