Opinion — Homelessness is a growing problem

Published 12:35 pm Thursday, March 17, 2022

“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” — Benjamin Franklin

Sharon Harrup

In the first six months of the current fiscal year, STEPS provided homeless prevention services to 134 households, which puts us on track for a 40% increase this year alone.

STEPS’ mission is to assist those with barriers to overcome them. Having no place to sleep at night or any familial support system is among the most challenging barriers anyone could ever face.

There are no emergency shelters in the region, so STEPS places the homeless in an area motel and provides case management to help them get on their feet. This addresses the immediate problem, but underlying issues that often led them to lose a stable home environment need more intensive attention.

STEPS is working with the Heartland Homeless Housing Taskforce, which has proposed building a 1,380 square foot community center surrounded by a series of 11 tiny homes in the Farmville area. The project would continue to serve the homeless in Amelia, Buckingham, Cumberland, Lunenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward counties.

Will this help STEPS “Moving Lives Forward” mission? Yes, because it would meet an immediate need and create an environment where our staff can use available resources to deal with underlying issues.

It might surprise you to read that there are homeless in our rural communities. But it is very real for those living through it.

It could be a 19-year-old who has burned every family bridge and must sleep in her car.

It could be a 26-year-old formerly incarcerated man, who has paid his debt to society and is on the street again with no one to help him start to build a productive life.

It could be an elderly woman, a couple or family, a co-worker or even someone you knew in high school who has no support system in a time of crisis.

Really, it could be any one of us who, through unforeseen circumstance or bad choices, find ourselves staring into the precipice of despair.

Construction costs coupled with land acquisition could total over $1 million for the tiny house project, but we believe this is an excellent value. Using this model — where the homeless receive intensive case management and gain forward momentum that will help them stand on their own — is pragmatic, forward-thinking and effectively gets at the root cause.

STEPS Vice President of Housing Shawn Rozier has reached out to localities in the region and provided information on the project. Each has received American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds earmarked for projects to mitigate economic harm created by the pandemic.

We hope all the communities will consider partnering with us.

The problem is not going to be wished away. Addressing the issue head on, as this proposal seeks to do, can affect real change, and offer hope.

It is the human thing to do.

And the right thing to do.

With available funding, this is the best opportunity we have ever had to build an emergency shelter for the region.

Benjamin Franklin once advised that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Please, let’s spend an ounce on prevention and start changing lives.

Sharon Harrup is the President & CEO of STEPS, Inc.