Homelessness in Charlottesville

June 25, 2013

Governor McDonnell announced this week a 16-percent drop in overall homelessness statewide, but is Central Virginia following that trend?

Some people at area shelters say they're seeing the same number of homeless people, if not more, in Charlottesville.

"We're using sitting areas to the overflow," says Salvation Army emergency shelter director Ben Houchens. "We get an overflow any place from six to 10 during the week and we set them up on the couch."

While the number of homeless people across Virginia is on the decline, there is no shortage of people looking to stay at the Salvation Army on Ridge Street.

Governor Bob McDonnell says the dip in homelessness comes from shifting some state resources from shelter services to rapid re-housing, a practice Houchens doesn't necessarily agrees with.

"The scary thing about it is, you're worrying about rapidly putting people into housing, which means you're not necessarily having them have income, resources, or any type of thing that can make them self-sufficient right now," he said.

Shawn Bradley lives down the street from the Salvation Army shelter, at The Crossings at Fourth and Preston.

Bradley is a veteran who spent five years on the streets, something he says could happen to anybody.

"One thing leads up to another and one day you're sitting and you have the world in your hands and the next day you don't have anything," said Bradley.

In the last three years, the number of homeless veterans in Virginia has gone down 18-percent.

Bradley is one of them, and he attributes this to support services offered at The Crossings.

Albemarle County resident Lynn Wiber, a homeless advocate, was once without a home as well. She pulled herself out of homelessness and says, for more people to do the same, Charlottesville needs more affordable housing and better mental health and substance abuse programs.

"It's hard to go to detox and them come back on the streets," said Wiber. "It's almost like a waste of time because it's really hard to maintain it while your friends are still out there and you don't have any place to go."

Wiber says, while the 16-percent decline sounds positive, there are still too many local people on the streets in need of assistance.

"They're just people like you and me and they have had a bad break and lost everything and now they're trying to get back on their feet," said Wiber.

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