Here’s how Virginia Beach tackles homelessness on its streets

(Southside Daily file photo/Courtesy of Pixabay)
(Southside Daily file photo/Courtesy of Pixabay)

VIRGINIA BEACH — As of April 29, there were 400 people identified as being homeless in the city, either living in transitional housing, in shelters or just living outside in encampments, according to the city’s Housing Resource Center.

The city works as part of a regional crisis hotline program that has one central number that people can call when they are either currently facing homelessness or at risk of homelessness, said Ruth Hill, Homeless Services/Housing Resource Center administrator.

Those people are then routed to their city of origin, sent through a screening process and assessed on their needs, she said.

From there they are placed in some form of temporary housing and the system starts working to place them in more permanent housing.

“We triage based on what their needs are,” Hill said.

It’s also known as the diversion program, said Pam Shine, Homeless Service System manager.

But what happens when someone’s gone through the system a few times with no results and ends up living on the streets?

That’s where the Homeless Outreach Team comes into play. Also known as HOT, it’s a mobile unit for the city’s homeless services.

“We bring the services to the people living in encampments,” Shine said.

Often, when people have gone through the system a few times without a good ending result, they give up and decide to live on the streets instead.

“They go into survival mode,” she said.

HOT’s goal is to reach out to those communities and bring the services right to them, hopefully alleviating some of the issues they’d had with the system before.

A big part of the Housing Resource Center’s assessment program is determining what each person’s vulnerabilities are in the system, Shine said.

“We’re trying to understand the impact their homelessness has had on them,” she said.

That means finding out what their interactions have been with local hospitals, jails, if there’s a history of homelessness or mental health issues and if they have children, what their interactions have been with child welfare, Shine added.

If the individual is high on the vulnerability assessment, that person is pushed higher up on the list.

Resources

The Housing Resource center is one way the city has stepped up its mission to end homelessness.

Before revamping the program, the community had to decide to come together and tackle homelessness as one unit, Hill said.

That allowed for a streamlining of the process and let the Housing Resource Center come about.

“Instead of managing homelessness we are trying to eliminate homelessness,” she said.

The Housing Resource Center became a one-stop-shop for people to come and get the help they needed — instead of having to go to various offices to get your services, people can come to one place and get everything done, Hill said.

She believes that has helped reduce the number of homeless people or people facing homelessness in the city.

In addition to the resource center and community programs coming together, the police department worked with the city to create the HERO program.

The HERO program stands from Homeless Engagement Resource Officers and it’s a way for officers to get direct training on how to deal with the homeless population and take a more humanitarian approach.

In April, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in San Fransisco that people with no place to live can sleep outside if they have no alternative.

While the city’s attorney said the decision does not apply to Virginia and the appeals court with coverage in Virginia has not made a similar ruling, the city does use discretion in regard to cases of people sleeping outside.

“We use discretion in regard to these cases as we are seeking to help people end their homelessness rather than criminalize their behavior,” said Andy Friedman, director of Housing and Neighborhood Preservation.

To learn more about the resources provided by the city’s Housing Resource Center, click here.

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