A few months ago, I had the honor of speaking with those who work for the Virginia Housing Alliance (VHA), which is a result of the merger between the Virginia Housing Coalition and the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness. During this encounter, I spoke with members of their staff on what VHA has been doing to end homelessness, their new training center as well as their work with various AmeriCorps programs.
As many know, Virginia was the first state to announce they have successfully ended veteran homelessness. Some may question this, thinking that there’s no possible way to have actually ended veteran homelessness. The most important point to make when talking about ending veteran homelessness, Virginia Housing Alliance’s own AmeriCorps VISTA Tommy Joe Bednar stresses, is the fact that they are at a functional zero. For those who don’t know, functional zero essentially means that there are more people being housed than there are homeless individuals per month. VHA has played a key role in this effort by working with the Virginia Department of Veteran Services (DVS) to launch a statewide Veteran Summit and training boot camp, which pushed Virginia’s Action Plan to End Veteran Homelessness into being, as well as spearheading 100 Day Challenges. The training boot camp was a two-day intensive event where community members from Richmond, Roanoke and Hampton Roads came together to asses what was needed to reach the goal of ending veteran homelessness, along with the steps to reach said goal. The 100 Day Challenge was a challenge for Richmond, Roanoke, Hampton Roads and Peninsula to house 370 veterans in 100 days. Remarcably, 462 veterans were either housed or were in the process of becoming housed.
I know you’re probably sitting there thinking “yes, this is an unbelievably amazing feat… but what else?” Well, dear reader, I’ll tell you! Similarly to the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, VHA began to realize that access to quality, affordable trainings for homeless service providers in their area was scarce. So, after much time and effort, the Virginia Housing Education and Learning Partnership (VA-HELP) was born, granting access to professional development, organizational development, and a range of other activities to support the nonprofit housing industry. Their trainings are decided by simply asking their members what trainings they need to best improve their work, and by doing so, they are able to meet their community’s needs. Coincidentally enough, they kicked off their first of many trainings yesterday with the topic of Fair Housing and Accessibility, presented by Robert S Ardinger, President of Ardinger Consultants & Associates.
But wait -- there’s more! What may be most remarkable of all is their ability to utilize community resources like AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs) and teams from the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (AmeriCorps NCCC). For those who are unaware, AmeriCorps programs engage Americans in intensive service with nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country. AmeriCorps VISTAs have a year long commitment and generally do not provide direct services, instead they work on building up the organizational, administrative and financial capacity of whatever organization they work with. Team members of AmeriCorps NCCC, however, must be between the ages of 18-24 as well as live and work on a team of 8-12, have a 10 month commitment but change jobs every 6-10 weeks.
VHA has committed to having 10 total AmeriCorps VISTAs placed throughout the state, 7 of which are with various Continua of Care (CoC), 1 is with a direct service organization, and 2 work directly with VHA. By spreading out these VISTAs, this creates a centralized discussion and the ability to share resources and best practices the VISTAs have found, Tommy Joe explains. Due to this capacity building effort, it brings a more universal and inclusive approach to ending homelessness, giving CoCs the ability to efficiently work together and share with each other what they’ve found to work best in their own community, so others are able to use similar methods.
The AmeriCorps NCCC teams, however, work on different approaches. Last year, their main focus was working with veterans, whether that be filling out the VI-SPDAT, helping with donations like food, clothing & furniture, doing landscaping work for local homeless service providers and more in Hampton. This year, their focus will be less on veterans and more on chronic homelessness in general. It’s important to note that VHA acted as an intermediary for these teams and their site(s). If you are in Virginia and would like an AmeriCorps NCCC team through VHA -- don’t wait! They are still accepting applications until COB Friday, April 8th.
All in all, VHA is doing amazing work in many different aspects, some not even discussed in this blog post since there is simply too much to cover. Although it’s hard to keep in mind a lot of the time, we need to recognize more often what other parts of the country are doing in order to keep learning more ways to end homelessness, discovering other best practices and just all-around collaboration.
If you are interested in learning more about VHA and their efforts in ending homelessness throughout the Virginia Commonwealth, please visit http://vahousingalliance.org.