The residents staying at three Loudoun County homeless shelters are talking out the issues that brought them there.
They may feel alone, or scared or wonder why.
They may not know what to do or where to turn.
Graydon Manor gives the residents a place to express those feelings through weekly group counseling sessions, provided to homeless adults and children staying at the Good Shepherd Alliance Emergency Homeless Shelters, located near Leesburg.
“It’s a pretty depressing and pretty upsetting experience to become homeless,” said Tim Ludwig, licensed clinical social worker at Graydon Manor who oversees non-residential community services in Leesburg and Winchester. “For the adults and parents, they are very worried and stressed. The children are stressed at the same time. It makes it difficult for the parents to support the children in dealing with that situation.”
Good Shepherd Alliance, Inc. accepted Graydon Manor’s proposal in November 2001 to enter into a partnership for the counseling services. Three mental health professionals from Graydon Manor, a not-for-profit child and family counseling service in operation since 1957, come to the shelters 40 times a year to counsel the residents. The counselors work with the residents in separate groups for adults, children and adolescents.
“Graydon Manor pictures the Good Shepherd family shelters as an ad hoc extended family with all the adults residing there having a significant influence on all of the children present,” said Mark Gunderman, vice-chairman of the board of directors for the Good Shepherd Alliance Emergency Homeless Shelters.
THIRTY RESIDENTS are staying in the family shelters, along with another 12 residents at the fourth men’s shelter in Arcola. They can stay a maximum of 89 days before they have to leave, whether or not they find housing, and are required to have a job or be seeking a job within five days of their arrival and to place part of their earnings in an escrow account.
The residents in the family shelters have a chance to learn how to deal with the issues and underlying problems of homelessness at the counseling sessions, which take place most Tuesday evenings right at the shelters. The residents are required to attend the one-and-a-half hour sessions.
“We try to change crisis and not make it a crisis anymore,” said Joy Trickett, chairman of the board of directors for Good Shepherd Alliance. “There seems to be a calmness in the group there used to not be.”
The residents have a chance to talk about their concerns, work out problems with other residents and be supportive of one another.
“There is no one who understands what it’s like to be homeless as someone else who is,” said Adrienne Miller, coordinator of the children’s program at Good Shepherd Alliance.
As many as 20 people could be living together in one of the shelter buildings, essentially a single-family home. They share the kitchen and living areas and sleep in separate bedrooms, one per family.
“There are stresses and strains in that kind of situation,” Miller said. “Lots of times there are underlying issues why these things come out.”
THE COUNSELORS from Graydon Manor do not tell the four staff members working at the shelters what occurs in the sessions.
“They have this safe area to air grievances among themselves,” Miller said.
“We do not view it as therapy per se but more as a supportive experience for the adults and children,” Ludwig said.
The adult counseling sessions aim to help parents understand the normal development needs of their children, how homelessness effects those needs and what they can do to meet the needs, Gunderman said. The counselors consult adults on improving their economic situation and on finding housing.
The sessions for the children intend to provide a secure and nurturing forum for them to express their emotions, regain their self worth and improve their communication skills, Gunderman said.
“My concern when we started this program is for the children,” Gunderman said. “I think our relationship with Graydon Manor is helping us put homeless children on a level playing field with other school children. … Graydon Manor has helped us give these kids a fighting chance.”
Miller said children can experience anxiety, fear of what can happen, shame at where they are staying and anger at their parents, a feeling that may not be easily expressed since the parents already have their own problems. “The support group gives them a place to deal with all that in a comfortable atmosphere,” she said.
“People make a difference by saying, ‘I’ll help you,’” Trickett said. “When someone is hurting, they spend extra time with them. They look ahead and address what’s happening with people who are homeless. They’re making a difference for us, and I pray they continue to make a difference.”
GOOD SHEPHERD ALLIANCE received a $5,000 grant to help fund the counseling sessions for the residents. Adding the support groups was one of three goals the alliance has, along with providing transportation for the residents and hiring a children’s program coordinator in March 2001, a position funded through a state Child Services Coordinator Grant. Some of the funding for the full-year state grant was leftover, but the state did not approve a request to use the funds for the counseling sessions. A former Leesburg resident donated funds to Leesburg, which in turn provided a $5,000 grant to support the sessions.
The counseling groups include a children’s group for ages six to 11, an adolescent’s group for ages 12 to 17 and an adult’s group for residents 18 years and older. Volunteers from a church group care for the children five years and younger during the sessions.
Four mental health professionals from the Loudoun County Mental Health Center agreed to volunteer their services to those in need of more individualized counseling.