By Debbie Messina, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.
Jun. 16–NORFOLK — As a newly released report shows a growing number of homeless people in the city, service providers met Thursday to evaluate their progress and brainstorm ways to get more people off the streets.
The city’s annual count identified 665 homeless , including 153 women and 81 children — an 11 percent increase from last year.
Katie Kitchin , the director of the city’s Office to End Homelessness, said the increase was expected, considering the escalating cost of housing in the region.
In addition, some of the region’s most affordable offerings — public housing, mobile home parks, and older homes in traditionally low-income areas — are being replaced with more expensive developments, said Claudia B. Gooch , vice president of The Planning Council, a regional human services agency.
The situation makes the Norfolk Homeless Consortium’s work more urgent. About 50 consortium members, who represent government and nonprofit agencies, met Thursday to review its work the last three years and start developing a plan to guide decisions on spending federal aid.
“I think we’ve made some progress — the new Office to End Homelessness helps us work more closely with the city,” said Barbara Gaddy , chairwoman of the consortium and director of Barrett Haven , which provides transitional housing for single women. “But we keep running up against the same things: we need more affordable housing and better incomes. Until we get that, we will still have homelessness.”
Last year, Norfolk Mayor Paul D. Fraim joined 59 other U.S. mayors and pledged to end homelessness in 10 years .
Developing a plan is more difficult because of new federal regulations that emphasize spending more on housing and less on services. Norfolk receives $2.2 million in federal aid annually.
Some services have had to be cut or curtailed — including a day program, prescription aid and counseling.
To some, that’s frustrating. “That’s the key part in helping people stay housed,” Gaddy said.
Many, however, agree that providing housing first should be the priority.
“It’s housing, housing, housing, but most of us in the room don’t have the power to make that change,” said Trish Manthey , executive director of The Dwelling Place, an emergency shelter for homeless families.
The consortium reported its progress toward meeting goals stated in its last plan, developed in 2003 :
* Permanent housing — South Hampton Road’s first single-room occupancy project, which provides permanent housing for single adults, is under construction in Norfolk. It will house 42 Norfolk homeless people, plus 18 from Virginia Beach and Portsmouth. Several more housing units are being developed by other agencies.
* Transitional housing (temporary housing with services) — About 40 more beds have been provided by ForKids and the Norfolk Community Services Board. The Salvation Army will open 23 new beds for women and children next year .
In addition, the Regional Task Force on Homelessness has begun researching developing a residential substance abuse treatment program; the Norfolk Community Services Board added an outreach worker for mentally ill homeless people; and a Homeless Management Information System database is being developed.
Some goals, including providing more comprehensive day services, emergency shelter for single women and single pregnant women, and additional legal aid, have not been met.
“We were pretty focused on permanent housing and transitional housing and moving forward on those,” Gooch said.
* Reach Debbie Messina at (757) 446-2588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.
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