For this episode of Community Conversations we spoke with Joyce Entremont, a volunteer with Streetlight Community Outreach Ministries.
Q: So, tell us about your organization.
A: It’s awesome. That’s what I have to say. Streetlight is the oldest and probably best-established outreach in the county. They’ve been doing stuff since the 90s, and it’s not just the homeless, although they are definitely a focus. We help the poor too.
Q: So, in what ways do you do that? Which ways do you help the homeless, and which ways do you help the poor?
A: Well, we provide crisis supplies for guys that just end up out there for whatever reasons, and there are a multitude of reasons why they end up homeless. We help people avoid eviction by helping with rent or utilities. We help with furnishings sometimes.
We have a weekly Harvest Banquet – we call it – and we probably get I wanna say 100, 200 people every Wednesday night and once a month at the banquet we offer free haircuts. And through a partner – none of us are hairdressers. And we help with getting IDs – things that are going to cost money that maybe they don’t have. And no ID means no job, no employment.
We help with prescription costs. We have a couple volunteers that do transportation to and from – that’s pretty limited though. You know we might give bus tokens, more likely. There’s just all kinds of things that we help with. We have some supportive housing units and that part is really, really special because we get some of these guys that are chronically homeless and medically fragile out of the woods. And we help them – they pay if they have benefits – for example, disability. Then they only pay 30% of their income, which is impossible anywhere else in this community. If they don’t have any benefits – no money – we take them anyway.
Q: One of the things that comes up often is talking about how the counties have – we’re one of the wealthiest counties in Virginia – so Prince William ranks up there. But also, Prince William County has a certain amount of homeless at any one time, so how many people are homeless at any one time and what kind of challenges does that give to you, since people think there’s money here, but we have a homeless population?
A: Well a lot of our homeless population is hidden, actually. People don’t know that they’re really out there. But I’m here to tell you that if there’s any large clump of woods, I’ll bet you see a tent if you go back there. A lot of these guys know about the services and a lot don’t. And that’s where I fit in. I volunteer with Streetlight, I’m not an employee. And I wouldn’t feel right taking money for what I’m doing, you know, it comes from the heart.
You know I go out, and I friend these people. And as relationships develop, there’s like a re-humanizing factor. Because some of them have been out there for so long, that you know they don’t trust society, they don’t fit in society, they don’t want to be out there, and all that. And Streetlight really works hard at helping these guys. It’s incredible. Let me tell you about one of our guys – an older guy. He, and I’m not going to tell you his name – top secret.
He was out there for years and became disabled. And then he developed a heart problem. And through me knowing the guys out there, somebody said, ‘You know, so and so’s in the hospital again’. And I said, ‘What for’. And of course, nobody knows. So I go traipsing to the hospital and find out the guy’s got a pacemaker, and he has a really bad heart, and he’s been in and out of the hospital for multiple years. Very, very unhealthy. And I went and talked to his doctors and then I went to Rose, our director, and I said ‘We’ve got this guy out here’.
Long story short is, that he now lives in one of our supportive housing units. And his whole personality has changed. He’s not in survival mode anymore. He’s happy, he’s confident, he’s comfortable – and he’s healthy. He’s not out there under the trees in the mold and all that. Recently I saw him out on the street, and I said ‘Let’s go get an ice cream’. And we were talking and – he has a case manager, but you know Streetlight tries to keep up with all of the needs – and I didn’t stop to take notes and see what he needed, I just stopped to be his friend, and we went for ice cream.
And I said, ‘So what do you need’ and he had the biggest, easiest smile on his face and he said ‘I don’t need anything. My life is wonderful’. And it’s because of Streetlight. I think he envisioned dying out there in a tent somewhere.
Q: Tell me about the HOPE Center.
A: Oh my god. Alright you guys. This is so exciting. This has been a dream of Rose Powers, the director, since day one. And you know, lots of money needed, and rezoning, and all kinds of permits and all kinds of hurdles. Well just recently, at our annual fundraiser, she made an announcement that we have been gifted land for the HOPE Center. Now let me tell you what the HOPE Center’s gonna be. It’s gonna be like an upscale apartment complex with like individual little efficiency apartments.
So that they have some privacy and they’re not brung right out there, you know. And we’ll have wraparound services – medical care, we’ll have counselors, and case management, and worship – optional worship service, a pantry. Just support for these people. There’s nothing like it in Prince William County. And we’re gonna do it.
Q: So how can the community help your organization?
Q: Whether it be – is $5 good, is $500? And what kinds of things does it go to?
A: Any amount. Well it goes to us helping people. You know, getting identification, helping them avoid eviction, prescriptions, rent. Just multiple needs, multiple needs. Besides money, and some of us don’t have a lot of that to give, we have a clothes closet and we always need the clothes and shoes and stuff like that. I think we’d prefer not to have used underwear and socks – those are things we would prefer are donated new.
And we also have a food pantry – and you can [donate] canned goods, or you know, non-perishables. You can also help by volunteering. Many, many facets of volunteering. And all you gotta do is come. We’ll give you something to do.
Q: So what motivates you to do this?
A: I really can’t pinpoint it. I will tell you that three years ago, I was with my red hat ladies at a luncheon and it happened to be Veterans Day. And the place was full of veterans with their families. And for whatever reason, something got me thinking, ‘What about the veterans in the woods who don’t have families’. So that’s what got me started. And then I hooked up with another, like a parking lot outreach, and the guy was saying, ‘You can’t help veterans, because if you say you’re here to help veterans, everybody’s gonna be a veteran’. And how can you say, ‘this is for you, but you can’t have this’?
So that’s how the whole thing opened up and exploded. And once I got involved, there’s no walking away. There’s no walking away from this. There’s so much need out there, it’s just heart wrenching.
Check back for the next episode of Community Conversations.