Newport News Committed to Reducing Homelessness

 In News

Written by Cleon Long, Newport News City Council Member and guest columnist at The Newport News, in consultation with Julie Dixon, Senior Director of Planning & Program Development at The Planning Council.

Kia Fogg gives a haircut to Joey Savage during the Peninsula Homelessness Consortium at Four Oaks Day Center in 2020. [Newport News staff file.]

According to the 2022 State of Homelessness, the number of unhoused individuals in the country reached record highs last year. The issue was compounded by the pandemic and has continued to rise due to the rising cost of homes, soaring rental costs, and individuals being unable to pay for utilities, food, and basic needs.

Like communities across the nation, Newport News is seeing significant increases in the number of unhoused individuals and families. In January, the annual point-in-time count was conducted across the six jurisdictions that comprise the Greater Virginia Peninsula Homelessness Consortium (GVPHC). Newport News saw a 65% increase in the number of persons counted during a 12-month period.

As the largest municipality on the Peninsula, Newport News is committed to addressing the plight of homelessness with others in the region. This fiscal year, we have allocated more than $3.7 million to serve homeless individuals. This includes operating the Four Oaks Day Services and Training Center 365 days a year. We also support the Winter Emergency Shelter, staff a robust housing broker team, and fund community organizations directly delivering services to unhoused individuals. In addition, we distributed more than $93,000 to nonprofits as part of our Community Development Block Grant Fund.

The GVPHC, of which we are a member, received more than $3 million in homeless assistance funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. This support benefits providers that offer permanent housing options, as well as mental and behavioral health and case management services.

While funding is critically important, it’s just the first step. We must have strategic partners prepared to do the work. Newport News has assembled a range of advocates who are committed to addressing the root causes of homelessness, from addiction and mental illness to unemployment and trauma, who will work to craft solutions.

As a member of the City Council, I am advocating for additional case management resources to ensure individuals and families have the wraparound services needed to enhance their self-sufficiency to remain housed. This holistic approach gives individuals the services they need in a coordinated and efficient manner, improving short and long-term outcomes.

In August, the city hosted a community engagement forum to discuss the challenges of homelessness and listen to resident concerns. We are now conducting engagement sessions to identify strategies.

We are initiating a study that engages with those experiencing homelessness and community advocates to identify gaps in services. In addition, we are working with the GVPHC and Planning Council to create a blueprint that addresses the needs of the homeless population on the Peninsula.

We must have the housing options needed to help individuals move from homelessness to independence. In Hampton Roads, there is a shortage of housing units that low-income people can afford.

We also know that as the gap between income and housing costs grows, more people face homelessness. We need the concerted effort of the city, as well as nonprofits, churches, community groups, and individuals who are committed to changing the face of homelessness in our city.

While Newport News is not the only community dealing with this challenge, we are taking the lead in developing a holistic approach that supports residents and transforms lives. We aren’t just addressing the issue of homelessness; we are dedicating the resources needed to break the cycle of poverty.

We have contracted with a firm to conduct a Housing Study that includes existing inventory and a gap analysis of estimated demand. We will then create a housing plan that ensures we have the options needed today while addressing the future growth of our city.

In Newport News, being homeless doesn’t mean being hopeless. We are prepared to do the bold work needed to uplift those who have been marginalized, overlooked,

and undervalued. Through our investments, we are working to create a future where homelessness is rare, brief, and prevented.