For this week’s Community Conversations, our host ST Billingsley spoke with Rose Powers, the Executive Director for StreetLight Community Outreach Ministries.
Q: Tell me what StreetLight Community Outreach Ministries is about.
A: StreetLight Community Outreach Ministries is a 501c3 non-profit organization. We were established to help the poor and the homeless in the Prince William County area. So we’re all about feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. We currently have four outreach programs: one is a food pantry, we have an outreach dinner for the homeless once a week – this is a fellowship dinner – we offer a lavish buffet dinner each week. We have social workers who attend this event to connect the homeless with mainstream services. It’s just a wonderful fellowship – a place where the homeless can come and feel accepted. And a place where they belong.
Another thing we do is our homeless prevention program, where we help with financial assistance, for things like rent evictions, utility cutoffs. We do this in order to keep people housed – to prevent people from losing their homes. And finally, we offer permanent supportive housing for homeless adults without children. Most of our clients are either medically fragile, or disabled, or they’re chronically homeless. So we currently have 29 supportive housing units in which people can live and begin the process of rebuilding their lives. One thing that is unique with this program is that we offer in-home respite care for those clients who are medically fragile.
It is alarming to realize that about 30% of people living in the woods today are actually medically fragile. They have health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. We actually took one gentleman in to one of our houses – and these are group houses, of the same sex. Each of our clients get their own bedroom. But we took this gentleman in, and he had worked all his life, was an electrician, and his kidneys failed. So he had to be hospitalized – he was in the hospital for two months – they realized he would never be able to work again, so they pushed through his disability benefits, but they were less than $1,000 per month. He lost everything, and he ended up living behind a 7-11 and three days a week he was going for dialysis treatment. So he would go back and forth after the dialysis treatments, he would go back to his little spot behind the 7-11, and try to recuperate. So he’s doing very well now in our program and working on maintaining his health.
Q: So you recently had a development behind Bungalow Alehouse on Prince William Parkway. How was your organization involved with helping the homeless there?
A: Well we are very involved in helping the unsheltered homeless, sort of otherwise known as the chronically homeless. And we were very involved with this crisis situation as well. We were able to house 10 of the people living in that Bungalow [Alehouse] campsite. And they’re actually five couples. So they’re now safely housed – we provided either first month’s rent or rental deposit money, which was required to get them into permanent housing. We actually worked with many of them – we actually transitioned four of them to long term recovery programs. Because they needed to really take that first step because their alcoholism was so severe that in order to maintain housing, they really needed to get free of the alcohol. So it does take quite a lot of work – building that relationship first, then they begin to trust you, then they start making those hard decisions about entering into these programs to get their life turned around.
Q: Do you run into any working homeless?
A: Many of the homeless work. But the problem is that many of them are unstable – so they’re working minimum wage jobs and they just – and they very often do not get a lot of hours. They don’t get full time hours. But they do work. And they work hard, but they just don’t make enough. They don’t make a livable wage – they can’t afford rent anywhere here in Prince William County. There’s very little affordable housing in Prince William County for minimum wage workers.
Q: How did the organization get developed out of Pathway Vineyard Church?
A: Well, StreetLight actually evolved out of the Pathway Vineyard Church. Years ago we moved into a shopping center. We took the anchor store space in that shopping center and it turned out we were surrounded by a wooded area. And we found out very quickly that there were homeless people camped out in that wooded area, so they also, there was a young man – he’s schizophrenic – used to sit on our front steps, and he was homeless. So when I would leave work at night, I would say goodnight to this guy. His name was Mickey and I would know full well that when I came back in the morning he would still be sitting there on those concrete steps. And he liked the steps because there was an awning over the building, so it kept him dry.
But I started looking for little ways to help him – bring him food – and I knew nothing about homelessness at that point. But we just started looking for ways to help him as well as the others that were living behind the church. And we just wanted to bring them in, and let them be part of our fellowship. So as we did that, we started developing other programs and then eventually in 2004, and we incorporated separately from the church. But the church today still provides all of our overhead, they provide our office space, our meeting space. They provide a pantry shelf for us for our food pantry. They even provide all of our overhead for utilities, including the Internet service. So they’ve been very, very helpful.
Q: And you talked about the homeless prevention program. So go into a little bit more detail. What is the homeless prevention program through your group?
A: Well the homeless prevention program is financial assistance that we provide to prevent rent evictions, so that people do not lose their homes. And we also help with the utility cutoffs, because that is a huge factor too. Sometimes people have to choose between paying their rent or their utilities, so by helping with one of those bills, we can help them keep their housing. We also pay for hotel rooms for families that are literally homeless, so that the children don’t have to sleep in the car, or even on the streets. So last year we spent over ten thousand on families who needed a hotel room to bridge that gap between the times they have to wait to get into emergency shelter.
Q: What do you see as being the average transition time between your group helping them, maybe with the hotel room, until they’re able to get in shelter? What kind of timeframe do you see there?
A: It can be two – about two to three weeks.
Q: So that’s a long time to be out on the street.
A: It is. And unfortunately with the families they have income, but to stay at a hotel every night is expensive. So what we are able to do is bridge that gap, just to keep them their hotel to reduce the trauma that the children may be experiencing, as well as the adults. You know it also helps them to maintain their job, if they do have a job.
Q: So have you seen more of an increase of actually family homelessness compared to – most of the time when you think of the homeless as an individual. Have you seen more families over the past couple years?
A: No, I haven’t seen more families, but I really don’t see a real reduction in the number of families that are homeless. Well, I take that back. I’ve seen some increase of families but the adult homeless population has really mushroomed, especially since 2008. It was in 2008 when it became a crisis and people were losing their jobs. We have worked with some, some people – men or women – who are out there in the woods now who worked all their lives and they lost everything, because they lost their jobs in 2008 and they just could not recoup.
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