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Letter: Joining Forces to Prevent Homelessness

To the Editor:

You can prevent homelessness, you can end chronic homelessness, you can move people rapidly out of homelessness. What you cannot do is stand aside and let people fall.

This simple belief—that together we can change the rate and severity of people losing their homes—brings together nonprofits, for-profits, civic leaders and government staff. We each play a special role, depending on our location and mission. For United Community Ministries (UCM), prevention is the key.

What does that look like day-to-day? Consider the children. They need early learning and safe care to get a good start. They need parents that understand how to help them. The children need early intervention for any physical or mental delays.

So programs such as the Bryant Early Learning Center, full-day care for parents of diverse incomes and backgrounds, ensures a good start. Healthy Families, operated by three nonprofits in Fairfax County, provides in-home education and support to new parents. And caring professionals in all these programs ensure that children receive the care they need and deserve.

Consider the adults. In Northern Virginia, a minimum wage job does not get you far. Rent, transport, food and medicine, clothing... workers need help, not just to get a job, but to get training and support to move on to a career. Without long term increases in income, workers fall further behind every year.

I have not mentioned housing. Many low cost options, such as boarding houses, have been zoned out of existence. We struggle to create enough homes for the workers in our midst. Land is expensive, businesses need profits and neighborhoods worry about property values.

We have had some notable successes in producing affordable units, especially nonprofit partners like Cornerstones and Wesley Housing. But to make an impact on the large number of families struggling to stay out of homelessness, we must do much more. We must increase our prevention efforts while we find new incentives for affordable housing development.

Homelessness literally is a lack of housing. Whether a family keeps their home through more earning power or through lower rent, the benefit to the community is the same: stability, security and success.

Shirley Marshall

www.ucmagency.org