A church group’s efforts amid the housing crisis
- A small church organization in Virginia is helping homeless people find permanent homes again.
- You help them pay rent, connect with roommates, and receive ongoing support services.
- That’s because skyrocketing rents have caused many Americans to lose their homes.
In the coastal city of Virginia Beach, Virginia, a church group of fewer than 40 people is grappling with a crisis that is sweeping the rest of the nation.
Todd Walker, executive director of the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center in Virginia Beach, said people experiencing the housing shortage, particularly those experiencing homelessness, are not often provided with the means to get back under one roof. That’s why he runs an organization that matches individuals with landlords, roommates and clerks and subsidizes their rent for up to two years.
It’s the kind of assistance that’s becoming increasingly needed, Walker says, as homelessness rises across the country and rent costs make it harder for people to afford housing, particularly for those on steady incomes through programs like Disability Social Security. In addition to losing access to stable housing, Walker says, people are losing access to their communities.
“Homelessness can be life-changing, it can be a matter of life and death,” Walker told Insider. “Why not take this opportunity where you can have your own space?”
“The whole goal is to help people be self-sufficient”
Rents rose at the fastest rate this summer since 1986, with a 20-month hot spell of hikes break in August. inflation doesn’t help either. This is on top of a national housing shortage making home ownership unaffordable for many.
Animal shelters across the country have felt the effects. Animal shelters saw one, The Washington Post’s Abha Bhattarai and Rachel Siegel reported in July rise among people looking for housing, with waiting lists that have doubled or tripled in recent months. The number of people homeless outside of shelters is also likely to be growing, experts told The Post, in camps, parks and other public spaces since the pandemic began.
Added to this is the nationwide moratorium on clearance from the pandemic period completed last year.
Walker’s organization is just one of several across the country helping people navigate a deepening national crisis.
“On average, we subsidize them for about six to eight months,” Walker said. “It all depends on the individual – everyone is different, some we pay longer than others.”
In addition to providing financial support to its customers, Walker’s organization employs clerks to help them with any problems they have when they start renting. Some of their clients also receive help from government housing vouchers.
“The whole goal is to help people be self-sufficient,” Walker said.
“They’re not just building their rental history — they’re readjusting to the community.”
One person who has benefited from the center’s housing assistance is Eric Perkins, first reported by NPR’s Jennifer Luden reported. Perkins told NPR that after a series of health events, including chronic lung disease and a heart attack in 2017, he lost his home, limiting his ability to work. He lived on the beach for a while and then moved to a homeless shelter. Today, thanks in part to the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center, he lives in his own apartment.
But it was a tough road to get there. His monthly disability payment — under $800 — is less than that medium rental in Virginia Beach in excess of $1,000 for a one bedroom apartment. This is common for many people on disability paymentswho have been left homeless by skyrocketing rents, unable to pay their bills or go to work.
But the center set Perkins up with a roommate, and he now pays $600 a month rent, though he was initially wary of living with a stranger.
“I was really skeptical because of the things I saw at the shelter,” he told NPR. “A lot of drug use, a lot of alcohol abuse, PTSD, there were a lot of veterans there. … I was like, ‘I don’t want to be in a house with someone like that.’”
Eventually he got used to the arrangement.
“We got to know each other, we respected each other’s freedom, we shared everything,” he says. “It was very nice.”
Customers aren’t the only ones cautious about living arrangements, Walker said. It’s hard to find landlords who are willing to have tenants who have experienced homelessness and are often financially vulnerable.
“We usually try to engage with people who have a heart for the homeless,” he said, adding that landlords are usually reassured by the outside support his organization offers.
“When they come in, they don’t just say, ‘Okay, here’s the person, goodbye,'” Perkins landlady Sophia Sills-Tailor told NPR. “You help them set up the household, donate things like blankets, pots and pans. And then they come to see her.”
research shows that the provision of housing assistance, along with case management and supportive services, can help people with chronic homelessness achieve long-term housing stability. Investing in sustainable supportive housing has helped reduce the number of chronically homeless people by 8% since 2007, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development found.
However, organizations like Walker’s are taking the brunt of this type of work. The housing shortage and rising rents have led to this attracted little attention by Congress, with Senate Democrats abandoning spending on affordable housing earlier this year.
Walker said that connecting people to an initial long-term housing situation after they are homeless is important to their long-term stability.
“They’re not just building their rental history — they’re readjusting to the community,” he said.