Council briefed on increase in homelessness in Charlottesville area

The Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless (TJACH) is the lead agency in this region for the U.S. Department of Housing and Development’s Continuum of Care program. They cover an area including Charlottesville, Albemarle, and the other localities in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. 

“We believe that everyone deserves a safe place to call home and we believe that is a human right,” said Anthony Haro, TJACH’s executive director. (download Haro’s presentation)

Haro said the goal of TJACH is to make homelessness as rare, brief, and nonrecurring as possible. He said homelessess is a symptom of a system that lacks enough resources and coordination. 

Every year, TJACH participates in the Point in Time survey to measure the size and scope of homelessness in a community. 

“Every year we do it in January with the goal of trying to identify folks at a time when we’re hoping most people are in sheltered settings because of the weather,” Haro said. 

The count is reported to HUD and the same methodology has been used for the past 12 years. The number of people in emergency shelters increased from 144 in January 2021 to 228 in January 2022. 

“The most significant shift has just occurred over this past year and it’s directly related to the pandemic and also things that the pandemic has brought with it like high housing costs and lack of available affordable housing,” Haro said. 

During the pandemic, congregate shelters moved to non-congregate settings as people were set up with private rooms in hotels. TJACH has partnered with Virginia Supportive Housing and the Piedmont Housing Alliance to purchase the Red Carpet Inn on U.S. 29, which has been converted to an emergency shelter. More on that in a moment.

The Point in Time measures those in emergency shelters (ES), transitional housing (TH), and the unsheltered

Just under seventy percent of those counted are male, and 98 percent of those counted are individuals. Fifty-two percent are white, 41 percent are Black, and seven are listed as other. 

Haro said the number of people who were chronically homeless dropped from 76 in 2012 to 32 in 2014. He attributes that to the opening of the Crossings at Fourth and Preston, a 60-unit single room occupancy building built by Virginia Supportive Housing. That number has begun to increase and Haro said there’s a need for more housing. 

“The other real key component to address unsheltered homelessness is street outreach programs and so we have street outreach though the PATH program at Region 10 which is focused people living outside with mental health and or substance issues but those resources haven’t really changed significantly in a long time,” Haro said. 

The Point in Time count isn’t the only metric. Haro said TJACH also measures the total number of people served each year and that figure increased from 290 in 2013 to 528 in 2021. He also said people are staying longer in emergency shelters with the average length of stay in 2021 was 136 days. 

“Before the pandemic it was around 40 days, 30 to 40 days in shelter was the average,” Haro said. 

That leads to a lack of turnover in those shelters, leading to shortages in emergency shelter capacity. 

Haro said the forthcoming 81-unit project at Premier Circle will provide relief when it’s built, but it will take some time. Ground is expected break ground next May and will be supported by Low Income Housing Tax Credits as well as Housing Choice Vouchers. 

Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade said constituents have asked him if TJACH had any outreach to people who panhandle on medians within the city. 

“Have you all, or is there a way to reach out to them, to say yes, here is service?” Wade said. “They say they see many of the same people in the same intersection and it concerns them. Sometimes they say it seems dangerous and I tell them there’s really not anything we can do.”

Haro said many of those individuals may not be homeless. Some may be paying for hotels and some may be living in their own places. 

“People choose to panhandle for many different reasons,” Haro said. “For some people it’s a social interaction activity and for other people they are paying to stay in a hotel that night and so it varies widely. We do have outreach workers who are familiar with many of those individuals. There are new individuals that pop up every now and again and that I see panhandling and I notify outreach team to see if they are aware of those individuals coming through.” 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the May 3, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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