Daily Press (Sunday)

Newport News committed to reducing homelessne­ss

- By Cleon Long STAFF FILE

According to the 2022 State of Homelessne­ss, the number of unhoused individual­s in the country reached record highs last year. The issue was compounded by the pandemic, and has continued to rise due to the rising cost of homes, soaring rental costs and individual­s being unable to pay for utilities, food and basic needs.

Like communitie­s across the nation, Newport News is seeing significan­t increases in the number of unhoused individual­s and families. In January, the annual point-in-time count was conducted across the six jurisdicti­ons that comprise the Greater Virginia Peninsula Homelessne­ss Consortium (GVPHC). Newport News saw a 65% increase in the number of persons counted during a 12-month period.

As the largest municipali­ty on the Peninsula, Newport News is committed to addressing the plight of homelessne­ss with others in the region. This fiscal year, we have allocated more than $3.7 million to serve homeless individual­s. This includes operating the Four Oaks Day Services and Training Center 365 days a year. We also support the Winter Emergency Shelter, staff a robust housing broker team, and fund community organizati­ons directly delivering services to unhoused individual­s. In addition, we distribute­d more than $93,000 to nonprofits as part of our Community Developmen­t Block Grant Fund.

The GVPHC, of which we are a member, received more than $3 million in homeless assistance funds from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developmen­t and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Developmen­t. This support benefits providers that offer permanent housing options, as well as mental and behavioral health and case management services.

While funding is critically important, it’s just the first step. We must have strategic partners prepared to do the work. Newport News has assembled a range of advocates who are committed to addressing the root causes of homelessne­ss, from addiction and mental illness to unemployme­nt and trauma, who will work to craft solutions.

As a member of City Council, I am advocating for additional case management resources to ensure individual­s and families have the wraparound services needed to enhance their self-sufficienc­y to remain housed. This holistic approach gives individual­s the services they need in a coordinate­d and efficient manner, improving short and long-term outcomes.

In August, the city hosted a community engagement forum to discuss the challenges of homelessne­ss and listen to resident concerns. We are now conducting engagement sessions to identify strategies.

We are initiating a study that engages with those experienci­ng homelessne­ss and community advocates to identify gaps in services. In addition, we are working with the GVPHC and Planning Council to create a blueprint that addresses the needs of the homeless population on the Peninsula.

We must have the housing options needed to help individual­s move from homelessne­ss to independen­ce. In Hampton

Roads, there is a shortage of housing units that low-income people can afford.

We also know that, as the gap between income and housing costs grows, more people face homelessne­ss. We need the concerted effort of the city, as well as nonprofits, churches, community groups and individual­s who are committed to changing the face of homelessne­ss in our city.

While Newport News is not the only community dealing with this challenge, we are taking the lead in developing a holistic approach that supports residents and transforms lives. We aren’t just addressing the issue of homelessne­ss; we are dedicating the resources needed to break the cycle of poverty.

We have contracted with a firm to conduct a Housing Study that includes existing inventory and a gap analysis of estimated demand. We will then create a housing plan that ensures we have the options needed today while addressing the future growth of our city.

In Newport News, being homeless doesn’t mean being hopeless. We are prepared to do the bold work needed to uplift those who have been marginaliz­ed, overlooked and undervalue­d. Through our investment­s, we are working to create a future where homelessne­ss is rare, brief and prevented.

Cleon Long serves on the Newport News City Council.

 ?? ?? Kia Fogg gives a haircut to Joey Savage during the Peninsula Homelessne­ss Consortium at Four Oaks Day Center in 2020.
Kia Fogg gives a haircut to Joey Savage during the Peninsula Homelessne­ss Consortium at Four Oaks Day Center in 2020.

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