Lunenburg, other counties still not funding homeless project

Published 6:18 pm Thursday, January 12, 2023

STEPS is still on a mission of reducing poverty throughout the region, despite still waiting to receive the requested funding from Lunenburg or the other counties it will be helping.

Last year STEPS announced that after years of providing temporary sheltering and case management services for the homeless in Lunenburg and surrounding areas, the company came up with the idea of building tiny homes for those in need.

The tiny house project would serve the homeless from Amelia, Buckingham, Cumberland, Lunenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward but be located in Farmville.

To date, STEPS President and CEO Sharon Harrup said no county had given the requested funds to help with the project.

In Lunenburg, the request was referred to their finance committee for review during the budget process at the beginning of this year.

Where would the money go?

STEPS Vice President of Housing Shawn Rozie said the funding would go towards purchasing land and constructing a supportive housing tiny home village.

“Currently, we have received $508,833 in grant funding and pledges toward these costs, which include a $168,833 grant from Centra Health,” Rozie said. “It is estimated that the land purchase and first phase of construction, which includes the community center and 11 tiny homes with water and sewer infrastructure, will cost 1.32 million.”

According to Rozier, the total amount of requests that STEPS has made to the region’s six counties and the Town of Farmville is $625,000.

“There are homeless individuals in all of the counties in this region, and it will take leadership from our local elected officials to provide what is needed to serve them,” Rozier said. “We hope they will not miss this opportunity to develop this critically needed resource when there is this level of available funding. Right now, several counties are waiting to see what the other counties will do. It is time for them to step forward and fund this project so that the homeless in their county can be included in the tiny home village supportive housing.”

No program in Lunenburg or across the region

Currently, the region has no on-site housing program, which requires STEPS to utilize hotels for sheltering or refer homeless individuals to shelters outside of the region.

According to STEPS, those shelters are often full, so there is nowhere for the homeless to stay except in cars, sheds, woods, or other places not meant to live in.

“During the two years of the pandemic, we provided hotel sheltering for 730 individuals in 388 households in the region, utilizing 1.15 million of COVID-related funding,” Rozier said.

Currently, STEPS primarily shelters the homeless who are 65 and older, persons with physical disabilities/severe health conditions which create life-threatening risks to living outdoors, families with children, and those trying to re-enter the community from prison with no place to stay.

“The level of funding during the pandemic is no longer available to our region, so we desperately need to develop a resource for serving the homeless,” Rozier said.

Harrup said the tiny houses would do more than just focus on a quick solution.

“Our solution has been to focus on the immediacy of their situation. It gets them out of the cold, but case managers can’t address some of the issues the homeless deal with in a few days. We need something better.” Harrup said.

More about tiny houses

Rozie said the tiny houses would come in two sizes and house individuals, couples or families; the homeless would stay from 60-90 days, enough time (with case management guidance from STEPS’ staff) to help them get on the more solid financial ground and enhance their opportunity for success once they leave.

“When residents are ready, Move On services assist them with finding another apartment, utilizing less rental assistance, or obtaining a personal housing voucher with follow-up case management after they move out,” Rozier said.

“When you consider the average cost of a home in this economy, this is a fiscally responsible option to address this problem,” Harrup said. “Plus, it is an investment into the lives of people in need. This would help address the root of individual/family homelessness issues so that clients can build a better life.”

“This is the best opportunity we have ever had to get some forward momentum for a project like this,” Harrup said. “This is really needed, and we are all working together to ensure that all the pieces come together.”