Shelter filling fast for winter

Shelters for the homeless are filling up early this year and those involved say warm beds will be in short supply for the rest of the winter.

“Nobody can afford housing,” said Gayle Sanders, Program Director Homeless Prevention Center in Woodbridge, which provides temporary housing for the area’s homeless.

Sanders said current housing prices have pushed more people into homelessness and existing facilities might not be able to meet demand.

Bill Mahr, Chairman of the Cooperative Council of Ministries, said he sees new people daily as he works with the area’s homeless.

The council works to help unsheltered people transition into the mainstream. In recent years, Mahr said, homelessness in the area decreased, but the trend is reversing.

“We had a steady clientele, we worked on it and reduced that by helping to get some people out of the woods,” said Bill Mahr

“Now we’re seeing new faces at the winter shelter,” Mahr said “There’s going to be more people living outside.”

Sanders said the faltering economy has pushed many working poor into homelessness.

“This isn’t just guys from the woods; this is also working people,” said Gayle Sanders

“Think about it … somebody making seven to eight dollars an hour working full time … or eight to ten even, they can’t afford an apartment, because a one-bedroom [apartment] is running $800,” Sanders said.

“Even rooms are going for $450,” she said.

Mahr said it’s unlikely that there will be any affordable housing built in the Prince William County any time soon and that creates problems even when the ministry has a success story.

“I don’t think it’s a priority for Prince William County. I think Prince William County wants to attract, and rightly so, businesses and high tech firms and I don’t see anybody building affordable low rent housing,” Mahr said.

“There is no safe haven facility for single homeless people in Prince William County. Even when we bring people out of the woods, they can not move in anywhere because the cost of housing is so high,” Mahr said.

“The problem is, we don’t have anywhere to put them when we bring them out,” Mahr said.

Sanders predicted that the numbers of area homeless would be higher this year than they have been in more than a decade

“We’re going right back 1988-89 when the churches opened their doors and did winter shelter,” she said.

Mahr said he’s been talking with several of the churches which belong to the ministry about doing just that.

Jackie Crawford said she is one of the working poor caught up in the circle of getting a job, losing it, finding another, and losing that one too when employers discover that she lives in the woods or the winter shelter.

Sporadic employment, a condition faced by most homeless people, Crawford said, contributes to their inability to get a place to live.

“You’re not a very reliable person because if they need you, they can’t get hold of you,” the 24-year-old said.

The spiral continues as time goes on. Crawford said.

“My health is deteriorating from living outside,” she said.

Crawford, who sometimes works two jobs at a time, said she and her boyfriend together are unable to save enough to make security deposits.

“If we could get past the first month’s, last month’s [rent],” she said of the requirements of securing an apartment, “we would be okay.”

“A lot of people have the perception of homeless people mixed up. There’s a big difference between being homeless and being a bum,” she said.

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