Homeless alliance endures

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors put the Cooperative Council of Ministries to the test, and the alliance of homeless advocates passed.

The council wanted to rehabilitate as many of the county’s chronically homeless as possible, on a “drop-in” basis and to use the county’s winter shelter to do so.

The supervisors wanted the council to accomplish its goal within a budget and created a Drop-In Center pilot program in May of 2002 to see if the homeless could be rehabilitated through employment training, substance abuse counseling and mental health assistance.

“We challenged them and they took us up on it,” Supervisors’ Chairman Sean Connaughton said of the Council of Ministries, an alliance of about 25 area churches.

“We essentially said we’d provide the facility, but they had to actually provide programs to help people transition back to society,” Connaughton said.

The idea worked. The Board of County Supervisors deemed the Council of Ministries successful and bestowed permanency on the program last month.

In the program’s initial year, 250 people were served. Seven people have moved to independent living. One moved to permanent supportive living and two returned to their families, according to a staff report to the Board of County Supervisors.

The council also proved to the board that it was capable financing the program, said Eric Sikorski of the Cooperative Council of Ministries.

“They saw that we had the ability to raise the funds. We could keep the place operating and that we would provide some basic metrics to the county for review,” Sikorski said of statistics council gathered on the homeless during the program’s first year.

“We did not want to have this as some kind of flop house where people would stop in for a meal and go back into the woods,” Connaughton said. “It’s a way to get people back into the mainstream.”

“The facility was there. The government’s costs are minimal and the faith-based organizations are providing all of the programs and the cost of running them,” he said.

“It’s one of those opportunities where we can partner with the churches and charitable organizations and see if we can make a difference,” Connaughton said.

“It’s been a good partnership between the Department of Social Services and Cooperative Council of Ministries,” Sikorski said.

“We have had some successes getting people into housing or more permanent housing,” he said, “Certainly what we’re trying to do is move people out of the woods and out of cars.”

During the pilot program Sikorski said the volunteers learned that sometimes it’s the simple things that lead to success.

“One of the things the center provides is just a phone number and an address for mail, so when they apply for jobs, they have a way of hearing back from employers,” Sikorski said.

“In the past people would call and they would say, ‘Winter Homeless Shelter,’ of something like that … Obviously the employer is going to go ‘click.'” Sikorski said of the discarded procedure that may have kept people from getting jobs in the past.

The council is also good at providing volunteers, Sikorski said.

” We bring both the homeless people who have needs together with the people who want to help them and provide the environment to do that,” he said.

For more information, call the Drop-In Center at (703) 897-8199.