Hope, help for homeless making strides

Virginia Walker is a struggling single mom, with a steady job at a Williamsburg-area hospital but barely covering the bills. She was distraught when her oldest son turned 18 and decided to quit school to help her pay the bills.

Then she found the Historic Triangle Housing, Employment and Linkages Project — H.E.L.P., for short.

“This program helped me keep my job and it’s awesome to know we have someplace to go,” Walker said. “It’s hard because I’ve always been the one who gave or helped people and it’s hard when you have to receive.”

Walker worked with H.E.L.P. and with Captain Debbie Bowers of the Salvation Army, one of H.E.L.P.’s sponsoring organizations. The program helped her in rough times and let her son stay in school; he graduated this spring from Warhill High School.

“I was able to save some money to have a graduation party for him, and later that night when we were sitting around, he came in to get a late-night snack and he said, ‘Mom, where did all this food come from?’” Walker said, teary-eyed. “And I explained to him that I was able to save up the money to buy hot dogs and hamburgers but I shared that Captain Bowers gave us the buns. And my son told me that he liked living here because living in the Salvation Army is like having Jesus next door.”

H.E.L.P. has been up and running since January, and yesterday the organization gave a mid-year report at Bruton Parish to a crowd of about 50 community members and supporters.

H.E.L.P. is a coalition of organizations, including the Williamsburg, James City County and York County governments, nonprofit groups like the Salvation Army and United Way, and faith groups, including area churches and synagogues. The groups all work together to help get people back on their feet and give them job and life skills.

The pilot program’s goals are to help 100 people with housing, employment and what Bowers called “wrap-around services,” which includes child care, transportation and life skills classes.

Walker is one of 66 people the program has helped so far. Between January and the end of June, the organization spent $89,802.35. H.E.L.P. has so far brought in $39,720.64. The balance was covered by the Salvation Army.

H.E.L.P. has obtained a dozen apartments for families so far, as well as two apartments that house six single men.

In total, that’s 6,701 nights of safe lodging.

Bowers said the program is intensive and requires complete dedication from the participants.

“We look for families that are very committed. They have to really want this program, they have to really want to change, or it’s not going to work,” Bowers said. “We have a responsibility, that we take very seriously, to those funders who are putting money into this program, that we’re making sure that the money that we’re spending and the money that they’re spending is being spent wisely.”

Despite H.E.L.P.’s success so far, the organization can only do so much.

“We can do what we have the resources to do,” H.E.L.P. faith organization liaison Bob Gay said. “Helping 25 families, which is our goal, or 100 people, not only are we far from it, but if we ever reach it, that really is just a small portion of the total people.”

There are 25 or 30 families on the waitlist to receive help.

“I think that the next steps really are to continue to get involved in the community, to get not only more faith communities to support us but we really have to establish outreach with business partners, with landlords and service partners in the community,” Gay said.

Businesses can assist H.E.L.P. by agreeing to hire the program’s graduates, and landlords can provide housing. Ultimately, H.E.L.P. relies on community support.

“Without community support,” Bowers said, “the project won’t get the full effect that it needs to get and won’t be able to do the work that it needs to do.

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