Increasing Local Housing Options Helps Reduce Any Additional Trauma for those Experiencing Homelessness (March 2017)
As many of you know, Cornerstones is a key partner in the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness. In 2008 this partnership, comprising local government agencies and nonprofits, set out to implement a “10-year Plan” to prevent and end homelessness in our high-cost-of-living area. Now in its ninth year of implementation, the partners have made significant strides in reducing homelessness – a 42% drop since 2008 – and have worked tirelessly to advocate for a county-wide commitment to increasing the stock of affordable housing. There has been some success in developing new housing options, such as the Bridging Affordability program which provides rental subsidy and support through a case manager for up to one year to help residents maintain stable housing. However, the fact remains: it is extremely challenging to find affordable housing for those experiencing homelessness in our community, even when they are working full-time.
And then there is recidivism – people falling back into a state of homelessness after being housed. While it is great to know that 72% of households leaving homelessness in Fairfax County are able to find housing and remain housed, 28% of households cannot seem to stay stable; a dilemma that might possibly be averted if people could get longer-term, customized support to tackle the often multiple barriers to their stability. Cornerstones already provides that support through its Community Care Management service, where clients have access to experienced social workers who can help them come up with action plans for addressing those barriers, but more needs to be done.
Last year in an attempt to find new ways to address both the dearth of affordable housing and reduce recidivism, not to mention the rapidly diminishing funding stream for homeless services, Cornerstones collaborated with the County’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness (OPEH) to develop an innovative approach to addressing these interrelated problems: to encourage local landlords to offer more of their housing units to those exiting homelessness through an incentive program that guarantees follow-on care management support to rapidly rehoused clients to help them remain stably housed and become good tenants.
Increasing local housing options helps reduce any additional trauma for those experiencing homelessness related to accepting housing that is far away from their workplaces, their children’s schools, and known support networks. Moreover, by investing more intentionally in an effort to increase housing availability locally, Cornerstones and OPEH seek to uphold and support the “One Fairfax” resolution that speaks to the County’s commitment to create the conditions for all residents to “live, learn, work, and play” and have equitable access to opportunities that enable them to participate and prosper in Fairfax County.
November is Homeless Awareness Month (November 2016)
The Embry Rucker Community Shelter stands as a beacon in our community – a steadfast reminder of our community’s needs as well as Reston’s collective commitment to serve those who are less fortunate. However, beyond the bricks and mortar are the men, women and children whose stories stretch beyond the weeks that they are residents of the shelter.
It can be difficult to comprehend that in Fairfax County – the second wealthiest county in the nation – there are more than 1,000 individuals who are homeless on any given night, a third of which are children. For those who are homeless, coming into the Embry Rucker Community Shelter (ERCS) is often the first step toward stability. At ERCS, Cornerstones provides safe, emergency housing for families and single men and women 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Clients build goals and find solutions with the help of Cornerstones’ care managers. Click here to read about Michael Gross, a Cornerstones Care Manager, whose brother struggled with homelessness. For Michael, helping the homeless is not just a job — it’s personal.
Our comprehensive services at ERCS include child care, medical assistance, nutritious meals, a nurse on staff and financial counseling. In addition, our in-house employment specialist helps unemployed or underemployed residents expand their skills as they prepare to look for work. For children, we offer tutoring and mentoring to help them achieve developmental and academic milestones. We also employ a full-time licensed housing broker who specializes in finding both traditional and non-traditional affordable housing options and helps our residents settle into stable housing as quickly as possible.
Needs are rarely ever isolated. Those who find themselves homeless often are facing other immediate needs like hunger or illness, as well as long-term challenges, like finding employment that pays a living wage, securing affordable childcare so that parents are able to work, and finding safe and affordable housing that will allow them to put down roots where their children can grow and thrive. For that reason, Cornerstones has adopted a model of providing wrap-around services and referrals to our network of partners to help our clients face the many challenges that stand in their way of success and stability. Click here to read about one of our clients, “Jeff”, who struggled to find solutions to his need for steady work and budget management, and how Michael Gross helped him on a path to stability.
Cornerstones’ support continues after the immediate crisis has passed, focusing on reducing poverty over the long-term. Last year Cornerstones helped 52 families and 84 individuals leave the Embry Rucker Shelter and homelessness, and nearly 70% are stably housed 6 months later. Through our financial mentoring program, 33 families who were formerly homeless have now saved $118,000 in trust accounts to reduce debt, get an education and even save to buy a home.
Moving a family out of the shelter and in to affordable housing costs about $5,000 – an investment that improves physical and psychological health, giving adults the ability to be successful at work and children the ability to succeed in school. You can support our efforts to move families out of shelter and into permanent housing by:
- Volunteering – Cornerstones is always in need of volunteers who can help us further our mission. Volunteers can support the shelter by providing childcare and tutoring, leading activities for youth, and by aiding shelter operations through landscaping, painting, repairs, etc. Contact Alger@cornerstonesva.org to learn about seasonal and ongoing volunteer opportunities at the Embry Rucker Community Shelter.
- Voting – Consider supporting Fairfax County’s new revenue-generating proposals like the Human Services and Community Development Bond, which can support programs in the Embry Rucker Community Shelter. Also on the ballot this year will be a meals tax referendum which would provide revenue support to human services programs like the ones offered at ERCS.
- Donating to Cornerstones! Cornerstones is always thrilled to receive cash or in-kind donations that can directly support our clients.
- We can accept donations of food, small home appliances, unopened toiletries and cleaning products, and new toys.
- Cornerstones is also currently collecting new and clean, gently used coats and jackets as well as new hats, gloves, scarves through November 9th for the annual Winter Coat Closet.
- The Annual Gifts for Kids Drive is also in motion! Confirm your donation commitment by November 18th by clicking here.
- And, watch for details about our Cornerstones to a Connected Community Year-End Appeal, one of our most important fund-raising initiatives. Your support plays a critical role in the services we provide to sustain lives and strengthen communities—one individual, one child, one family at a time.
To learn more about Cornerstones, attend a one-hour “Virtual Tour” of our services. Click here to see available dates!
September is “Fruits and Veggies: More Matters Month” (September 2016)
“Fruits and Veggies: More Matters Month” is a time for everyone to reflect on the importance of balanced diets and healthy eating habits to one’s overall well-being. For Cornerstones, however, finding ways to improve access to healthy food for our low-income neighbors is a year-round endeavor.
A long-time provider of food assistance to the greater Reston-Herndon region, Cornerstones offers a full-time pantry program that provides fresh and non-perishable foods, as well as care management and wellness support to clients. Additionally, Cornerstones operates a smaller “wellness kitchen” in its Herndon community center and provides healthy cooking classes at four community-based centers in Reston. This service provides food resources to those struggling financially who might otherwise have to decide between paying rent or utilities and feeding their families.
What we have found through these services over the years is that quantity of food isn’t the only important factor in serving the needs of our community. Location of food assistance, accessibility to the pantries, and availability of nutritious food options are also equally important in addressing our client needs more holistically.
Having a pantry located where clients live or on a public transportation route improves accessibility to food resources; and operating the pantry during hours that fit within working parents’ schedules – including early morning, afternoon and some weekend hours – as well as having translation services available, improve the ease and process for clients who need this service.
The availability of wholesome, nutritious foods is another factor Cornerstones works to address. Many of the least expensive foods available in the grocery store are canned and are high in sodium. To improve access to healthier options, Cornerstones has worked with the County to facilitate the “SNAP-at-market” pilot program which allows clients to use their SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps) to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at the Lake Anne Farmers Market with a matching dollar bonus, enabling clients to obtain even more healthy food.
Even though the location of Cornerstones’ food pantries makes food more accessible to clients, at times they are not accessible at all. During the record-breaking snowfall in late January of this year, which made it very difficult for many residents to leave their homes, Cornerstones and members of the Herndon Food Network – a partnership of local schools, nonprofits, faith communities, and the County which focuses on addressing youth hunger in schools in the Herndon area – worked together to deliver food to homes of some vulnerable children and youth who depend on free and reduced lunch. This new partnership is another example of the way Cornerstones is convening key stakeholders in the community for collective impact; working together to reduce student hunger, utilizing available food resources more efficiently, considering options for better food storage and transportation, and being flexible in addressing potential food shortage crises as they unfold.
You can also be part of this critical endeavor in our community. Consider donating cash or needed food items to the food pantries; sign up to volunteer with SNAP-at-market or a food bank; or simply help spread the word among your friends by liking Cornerstones’ Facebook page or tweeting about the work we and our partners do in the community.
May I wish you all a healthy eating month as you enjoy more fruits and veggies!
Recent CEO Messages
The State of Homelessness In Our Community (March 2016)
Our Impact FY 2015 (February 2016)
A Place Called Reston (September 2015)
You can make a difference in the lives of children (August 2015)
National Children’s Awareness Month (June 2015)
We applaud our Volunteers! (April 2015)
Investing in families strengthens our community, FairfaxTimes.com, March 16, 2015
Connecting to End Homelessness: Letter to the Editor, Kerrie Wilson and Sara Leonard, Fairfax Connection, September 25 – October 1, 2014, Page 8.
Housing Values On the Rise; Opinion article, Cornerstones’ CEO, Kerrie Wilson, Reston Connection, October 8-14, 2014, Page 6.
On Health and Community (February 2015)
Reflections – Stu Rakoff (January 2014)
Homelessness in Perspective (November 2013)