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A personal approach to addressing homelessness

Young brunette woman wearing a black t-shirt and blue jeans distributes tarps from a box to an unidentified woman wearing a grey sweater.
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Allison Henry, PATH Outreach Worker for the Valley Community Services Board hands out tarps during a visit to a campsite used by unhoused people in Staunton. 

At one point this summer, nearly 800 people were experiencing homelessness in the areas surrounding Staunton. The Valley Community Services Board is partnering with other aid organizations to address the issue of homelessness.



ADRIENNE MCGIBBON: Allison Henry knows the people experiencing homelessness in Staunton.

ALLISON HENRY: What you making?

ADRIENNE MCGIBBON: It's her job to help them access resources, like Social Security, disability or food stamps, and, eventually, a more permanent place to stay.

ALLISON HENRY: You know what told me [name redacted] I am last week? He called me a professional poverty thief, 'cause I'm going around snatching people's poverty.

CLIENT 1: Oh my God.

ALLISON HENRY: I go meet people wherever they're located. People who are unsheltered and sleeping somewhere not meant for human habitation. So, in their car, in a tent, in a shed.

CLIENT 2: A camping, a care package or something?


CLIENT 2: That's cool.

ALLISON HENRY: I try I used to have these supplies all the time. Remember that?

ADRIENNE MCGIBBON: Allison works for the Valley Community Services Board. The organization coordinates efforts to address homelessness across the region.

ALLISON HENRY: Do you want this box for anything?

CLIENT 3: Yeah.

ADRIENNE MCGIBBON: On the day we were with Allison she was delivering toiletries to a group of people relying on tents for shelter.

ALLISON HENRY: That's not necessarily one of my job duties, but I think it's a great way to build trust. And there's an extra black t-shirt for you.

ADRIENNE MCGIBBON: She introduced us to one of her clients who's asked not to be identified.

CLIENT 4: I mean, we're all a family. We look out for each other as much as we possibly can.

ADRIENNE MCGIBBON: During COVID, he lost everything.

CLIENT 4: I had a company and everything, and I lost it all, partially due to COVID, and it's just been hard to get back up every since then. I lost my house, I lost everything I had.

ADRIENNE MCGIBBON: He's been living outdoors since 2021 and says it's been hard to change a situation.

CLIENT 4: Get a job, all that stuff. It sounds so simple and it really, sometimes it is for some people because of the resources and stuff. You can go places, you can take showers and stuff like that. You can pick up on somebody's floor overnight if you need to be able to make it to an interview, anything. I mean, not everybody has that.

ADRIENNE MCGIBBON: Allison hopes her support can offer the help her clients need.

ALLISON HENRY: I understand that they're not going to be able to focus on obtaining permanent housing and doing applications and accessing mental health treatment if their basic necessities aren't taken care of.

ADRIENNE MCGIBBON: Allison's boss, Lydia Campbell,  oversees the work. This summer, the Valley CSB was helping up to 800 people.

LYDIA CAMPBELL: These folks who are in need, folks who are experiencing homelessness belong to all of us. They belong to our entire community. It is a community problem and our responsibility to figure out what are we supposed to do next? How do we fix this?

ADRIENNE MCGIBBON: She says she's found the most success with a model called Permanent Supportive Housing. It allows people to select where they want to live instead of relying on public housing. That person pays a portion of the cost and supportive housing pays the rest. The client is also connected with supportive services to help them succeed.

LYDIA CAMPBELL: It's going to take all of the players, all of the organizations who are attempting to end homelessness, to look at all of the resources that they have to offer and tailor them to that individual.

ADRIENNE MCGIBBON: The Valley Community Services Board has about a hundred people in permanent supportive housing. The state expanded the program's funding in July. With that additional money, Lydia hopes to provide permanent housing for more people experiencing chronic homelessness.

LYDIA CAMPBELL: I think it's really important for folks to understand and internalize and believe that a safe place to sleep, to have shelter, is a human right. And it's unfair and unrealistic to expect that people would be able to have goals and/or do something better for themselves if they don't have their basic needs met.


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