While tensions over the Good Shepherd Alliance’s plan to move its homeless drop-in center were being worked out at meetings of the Board of Supervisors last month, a pair of former Good Shepherd leaders had been quietly working since spring to help Loudoun’s homeless.
The Good Shepherd Alliance’s founder, Chaplain Charles Grant, and its former director of social services, Janice King, formed the Circle of Love Coalition in May, and by the next month, it was operating two temporary shelters in residential units. Grant said the coalition had opened a men’s shelter and a family shelter, one in Sterling and one in Leesburg, although he declined to say which of the shelters was where. The men’s shelter is the only one in the county. "Nothing was being done for homeless men in the county," said Grant.
Called House of Joseph, the men’s shelter houses up to eight men for anywhere from one to three months and is currently at full capacity, said King, while one family and a couple of individuals are staying in the family shelter. Circle of Love has its office in Leesburg.
GRANT SAID the coalition’s financial situation is "terrible." He said his own church, Grace Baptist, is working to support the Sterling house, while King has started working part time through a temporary employment agency in order to cover rent and utilities for the Leesburg site. "She’s committed to helping people in the biggest way I know," said Grant. He said he hoped to open a thrift store to raise funds and to provide job training for the shelters’ residents, much as he had done at Good Shepherd. Meanwhile, he said, several individuals have also made donations, and King noted that Reston’s Heritage Fellowship Church made monthly contributions.
Coalition chairman Mike Socha said the organization has had trouble soliciting donations because it is not yet a certified nonprofit, although King said the papers to make it official should be arriving any day.
Grant said Circle of Love would not take any government money. "God loves a cheerful giver," he said, adding that he felt people should help each other out of a sense of charity, "not because they’re coerced and that’s what taxation is."
"I’m hoping the Lord is going to raise up people to help, just like He did for Good Shepherd," said Grant, noting that he had run the Good Shepherd Alliance (GSA) on a donation basis for 14 years, before he left the organization in the mid-1990s due to serious injuries received in a head-on car wreck. At the time, he was also a member of the county Board of Supervisors and was forced to limit his activities. Good Shepherd now receives considerable funding from the county, which Grant said he thought was a questionable use of taxpayers’ money.
KING CAME TO Grant for advice on starting a new organization after leaving Good Shepherd in May. She said she left because Good Shepherd was narrowing its services, including limiting its hours and closing its men’s shelter. "When they got rid of that, a man died that winter," said King.
She said an organization could get more government funding for housing women and children than men. "People probably figure men should take care of themselves. And they should, just like women," said King. "I have compassion for men, women and children." Grant agreed to work with King as a member of the coalition’s advisory board and King became Circle of Love’s director.
Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run), who recently spearheaded the county’s takeover of Good Shepherd’s homeless day center in Leesburg after residents of her district protested its relocation to their area, said she had heard nothing of the House of Joseph. "It didn’t come up in any of our discussions about Good Shepherd," she said.
Waters said she hoped the shelter was in accordance with overcrowding and zoning ordinances and that it was cooperating with nearby property owners. "The GSA experience demonstrates that you have to communicate with your neighbors and I hope they’re doing that," she said. Because a higher percentage of the homeless population suffers from mental illness or addiction or has a criminal history, shelters can cause concern among their neighbors, said Waters, adding that the characterization did not apply to all homeless people.
Grant said the shelter’s first site had been withdrawn by the property owner due to its neighbors’ worries.
As for Grant’s insistence that charity should not be the work of government, Waters said she felt the county had formed several successful partnerships with nonprofit agencies, such as its cooperation with the Salvation Army to run a homeless warming shelter and the contracting of Volunteers of America to run the county’s transitional shelter, which houses families and single women. Without the county government, she said, there would be no drop-in center.
However, she said, "Anyone who takes government funding has to play by the rules that the government sets." Following the debacle over Good Shepherd’s drop-in site, Loudoun is about to create a grant process through which nonprofits will apply for county funding and be held accountable for how it is spent.
SOCHA SAID some of House of Joseph’s residents had fallen on hard times, while others had been released from prison. A former parole officer, he said he had been frustrated by the lack of a transition program for released inmates. "They were released and they had nothing to come to," he said. "How do they begin in the community? Where do they get that start?"
Socha knew Grant through his work at Virginia Regional Transit (VRT), where he is the general manager. Grant, the VRT president, asked Socha if he would be interested in joining Circle of Love.
He said all of the shelters’ residents were checked by the police to make sure they were not sex offenders and had no outstanding warrants. Those who are on parole, he said, are closely monitored by the authorities.
King said a parole surveillance officer frequently visits and casts a flashlight across the beds to make sure everyone has made curfew. Before they move in, potential residents are subject to mental evaluations, and every 30 days, their situations are re-evaluated to make sure they have jobs and are doing their duties at the shelter and following the rules, in order to determine whether they can stay another month. Stays are limited to 89 days. King said none of the current residents are illegal immigrants, although two are U.S. citizens who were deported from other countries.
Those who stay at the shelters are offered counseling and support in order to help them find employment and live on their own, said Grant. He said the coalition, with help from the Elks Club, was also providing clothes, toys and Christmas dinners to families who formerly stayed in its shelter, and King said the organization also helps people who do not live in the shelters to find jobs or buy school supplies. It also runs a day center.
"We’re slowly trying to define what it is we want to do," said Socha. "It’s so new, I call this the infancy stage."
"You’ll be hearing more of us. We’re not going away," he promised.