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An Open House

Award-winning homeless shelter invites community in to celebrate.

On Thursday, the staff of New Hope Housing and residents of Mondloch House celebrated their selection as Virginia’s Best Housing Program for 2006 by opening their home on Lockheed Road to their community. Local officials and housing professionals from around the region took the opportunity to visit a residential program that has achieved success by rejecting almost all of the expectations and prohibitions that govern traditional homeless shelters.

“It goes back to the original vision: to take folks living in boxes and seedy motels and burned-out cars and give them a new opportunity,” said Rick Mondloch, co-chair of New Hope’s Board of Trustees. His father Bob was New Hope’s first treasurer and the namesake for the facility that has evolved dramatically from its origins as a farmhouse that was converted in the mid-1970’s into New Hope’s first shelter.

Michael Billings has lived at Mondloch for one year and four months. “It’s a very safe, secure shelter,” he said. At other facilities he’s frequented, “there didn’t seem to be any rhyme nor rules in regard to behavior.” Although Mondloch has fewer rules than most shelters, and many of its occupants have struggled with their behavior while staying elsewhere, Billings said he can rely on his housemates to contribute to a calm atmosphere. He credits much of this stability to the Mondloch’s ever-present staff. Program Coordinator Laura Martin even helped him find lumber for the birdhouses and feeders he builds for the yard.

“Mondloch House is really an oasis in the middle of our part of the county. It permits people in dire need of help to get a roof over their head and get some help,” said Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland, one of the many local officials who dropped in.

Capt. Mike Kline, the commander of the Mount Vernon Police Station, praised Martin for coming to his station to educate his officers about the shelter. “Without places like Mondloch House, there would be more folks just aimlessly wandering the Route 1 corridor with no hope of moving forward with their lives. This leads to more calls for service that take us away from our primary mission of combating crime and enforcing traffic laws.”

IN 2004, Mondloch was restructured to serve chronically homeless adults by offering them personal relationships and eliminating the rules that had driven many from other shelters. The program takes on clients with the goal of acclimating them to housing, then encouraging them to participate in basic hygiene and finally to live on their own. Mondloch has served 21 chronically homeless people since it opened. Seven are current residents and nine have successfully transitioned to more permanent housing. On Nov. 30, Governor Tim Kaine presented the state’s “Best Housing Program” award to Mondloch’s staff at the Governor’s Housing Conference in Norfolk.

“We need to clone them,” said Phil Ross, president of the Prince William Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He was seeking inspiration for his organization’s effort to establish a housing program in a county that is beginning to develop like Fairfax, which he praised for its partnerships with non-profits like New Hope. “This particular facility and the New Hope group provide a really good big picture of what it takes.”

Asked what she thought about Mondloch, visitor Mary LaViollette-Ange looked above the heads of guests and residents. “I think it’s lovely,” she said, gazing around the new building that sits on the site of the old farmhouse. “The architect had a brilliant idea to have high ceilings because they’re so inspiring. In a program like this you need inspiration.”

LaViollette-Ange is a real-estate agent from Annandale. She’d come to see whether she could help New Hope find more buildings for its program. She was disappointed to hear they weren’t in the market, but happy to see a successful remodeling job. “It’s really great to be in a colorful place with other people,” she said. “Even if they all have problems, they’re not alone.”

Martin, the program’s director, deemed the open house “a raging success.”

IN OTHER SHELTER NEWS, New Hope’s director, Pam Michell said she was surprised to find that on a week when temperatures rarely rose above freezing, attendance at emergency shelters like the Hypothermia Shelter at Rising Hope Church, is “up, but it’s not through the roof.”

At New Hope’s Kennedy Shelter near Fort Belvoir’s Tulley Gate, occupancy limits are set aside whenever the temperature dips below freezing. But its limits weren’t strained last week. “It’s counter-intuitive,” Michell said. She credited homeless people’s ability to stay out in cold temperatures to the woodcraft many learn from camping out year round.