She is embarrassed. A professional woman, she didn’t expect to be
red-faced and teary this morning. But one look at the shelter board, scanning the names and ages of the occupants of each room, she was overcome with sadness. She doesn’t speak, but her thought bubble is clear, “My GOD, they’re babies!”
She turns away to hide her watery eyes. But we understand. It makes us sad too.
Haven House, the ForKids emergency shelter, is full of babies, toddlers, and elementary school students. Some children are just days old, coming straight to us from the hospital with their exhausted mothers. The shelter is their rst
Like most people coming for a tour of ForKids, the woman started at our main o ce on Colley Avenue with a rst stop at our Housing Crisis Hotline call
center. She heard the calls pouring in and saw the numbers ticking up on the electronic tracking board. Shirley, ForKids’ Crisis Response Director, told her how the Hotline team monitors every opening in the shelter and how they try to ll every re-code available spot, or “38 heartbeats,” at Haven House each night.
The woman had donated to ForKids for years and heard all about Haven House. But this was IT? It is so small.
With the closure and contraction of many of the area’s family shelter programs over the last decade, Haven House, a 5,300 square foot building built in 1919 in the quiet community of Ocean View, is now the region’s primary shelter resource for homeless families. The old building functions in over ow conditions almost every night with each bedroom full and families sleeping on the kitchen oor in temporary “emergency overnight” placement.
Over the last decade, the federal government has reduced
support for shelters across the United States, redirecting resources into “rapid rehousing,” a program funding short-term rental assis- tance for households that meet the federal de nition of “homeless.”
To qualify, they cannot have stayed with a family member or friend or in a hotel paid for by themselves the previous night. It forces them to be on the street or in a shelter before they can receive rapid rehousing assistance.
ForKids is now one of the largest rapid re-housing providers in Virginia and it allows us to move families to housing much more quickly, reducing shelter stays to approximately 35 days. But is hasn’t eliminated the need for shelter. Landlord and government processes just don’t move that quickly.
We climb the steep stairs, the woman looks at the tiny rooms and the small bathrooms (each bath shared by four families). We talk about how it is the lucky ones that get to come here. The unlucky ones will remain constantly mobile in overcrowded, dangerous conditions, moving from family member to friend, children constantly changing schools. Our call center team will direct them to outreach workers, safe places and interim resources until we can bring them into this little, essential shelter.
As she leaves, she looks again at the shelter board. Occupancy: 34 in Shelter Rooms, 4 on the Kitchen Floor. Total Occupancy: 38. She swallows hard and says, “It is di erent when you see it.”