By Kari Schumitz
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, April 1, 2010; VA18
Just a few days after moving in, Chanahvia Hall's new apartment was unpacked and neatly organized. Her son, Dominic, clamored to watch a Mickey Mouse DVD.
A week before, Hall and her two young sons were staying at the Breezeway Motel, one of the 1960s-era motels in the City of Fairfax where Fairfax County houses some homeless families until there's space in a county shelter. Generally, there's a waiting list for the shelters.
"It's all right. It was a place to stay," Hall said of living at the Breezeway for three months. "You can never really get comfortable there."
The nonprofit Fairfax Area Christian Emergency and Transition Services (FACETS) is piloting a program to move homeless families straight into housing, rather than taking the usual path from motel to shelter to transitional housing. The goal is to get them back on their feet faster.
Hall, 23, and sons Deiosity and Dominic Bantan, 2 and 1, are one of five families participating in the pilot program. FACETS worked with the families while they stayed in the motels.
FACETS is using Fairfax County funding that usually would go toward paying for the motel stays to lease the apartments, said Amanda Andere, FACETS executive director. The group is providing support services such as social workers, financial literacy training and job skill development.
The goal is to get families into permanent housing within three months, but "with the economy the way it is, we're flexible on that," Andere said.
Hall, who is eight months pregnant, said she is eager to get back to work or school after she gives birth to her daughter. She was preparing to join the Navy when she learned she was pregnant.
"I want myself and my children to be in the safest place possible," she said. "I want to make sure I'm not in this situation again."
Hall briefly experienced homelessness as a young child in Portsmouth, Va., as her mother struggled to raise five children on her own. The family later moved to Fairfax County.
Hall entered foster care in her sophomore year of high school, moving from placement to placement. She graduated from Chantilly High School in 2006 and got some college credits at Norfolk State University and Northern Virginia Community College.
Shortly after aging out of foster care at 21, Hall's living situation fell apart and she found herself homeless, with a 2-month-old baby. This is her second journey through homelessness.
If the pilot program succeeds, FACETS plans to move 10 more families out of motels and into apartments, Andere said.
The project is the group's first effort to embrace the "housing first" concept, which is part of Fairfax County's plan to prevent and end homelessness. The county and its partner agencies adopted the 10-year strategic plan in 2007.
Housing first puts an emphasis on preventing homelessness and rapidly moving homeless people into stable housing, rather than putting them in emergency shelters until they become self-sufficient.
"For a long time, we've been getting people ready for shelter and not thinking of where they're going to go next," Andere said. "Now we're really venturing into housing first. . . . We can't get them working if they're not in housing."
Now that she is in an apartment, Hall is focusing on saving money, which she said has always been a challenge for her, and is considering joining the military or pursuing a career related to sports medicine.
"I try to focus on getting my kids through the struggles without them remembering any of it," she said.