Nonprofits Team Up to Reduce Senior Homelessness

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) – Just a few months into its existence, a new program is seeing success in getting seniors off the streets of Charlottesville.

Two faith-based nonprofits teamed up to make it happen.

The Secure Seniors Program is a new initiative to end homelessness for people over the age of 55 in the area.

Since it launched in August, it’s already successfully getting some people off the streets.

“My address was Booker T. Washington Park, second bench,” Brenda Smith, who’s in the Senior Support Program, said.

A park bench and shelters is all Smith had to call home just a few months ago.

“Homeless is getting older, it’s not a bunch of young people,” Smith said. “It’s a lot of old, elderly people.”

But Smith is getting off the street and into a home of her own.

“I went to every step I was told to go, and you got to stay on it, you can’t just say, ‘oh, I’m going there,’ you have to do the leg work,” Smith said. “And I’m going to tell you, it was a struggle for me.”

Alliance for Interfaith Ministries (AIM) and People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry (PACEM) teamed up to create the Secure Seniors Program.

“They’re the most vulnerable of any of the groups that we serve,” Jayson Whitehead, the director of PACEM, said.

The program gives senior citizens first month’s rent and security deposits, up to $1,000 total.

But organizers say some applicants continue to struggle in the months that follow due to a lack of income.

“Affordable housing is a real crisis in our area, so that’s definitely part of a struggle with this program,” Whitehead said.

Smith was one of the first participants in this program.

“I haven’t stopped smiling, I haven’t stopped,” Smith said.

She says now she’s making up for lost time.

“Getting back things that I had lost over the years,” Smith said. “I came down here without a can opener.”

And she’s also counting her blessings.

“Some of us make it, some of us don’t, and I myself, I’m so glad I got a God,” Smith.

Both the nonprofits and the program are funded primarily by donations, with some grant support.

They’re hopeful people will consider donating before the cold weather arrives.