• A small religious organization in Virginia helps homeless people find permanent housing.
  • They help them pay rent, match up with roommates and receive ongoing support services.
  • Soaring rent prices have caused many Americans to lose their homes.

In the seaside town of Virginia Beach, Virginia, a religious group of fewer than 40 people tackles a crisis that is also sweeping the rest of the nation.

Todd Walker, executive director of the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center in Virginia Beach, said people suffering from the housing crisis, especially those who are homeless, often don’t get the tools they need to get back under a roof. That’s why he runs an organization that matches individuals with landlords, roommates and social workers, in addition to subsidizing their rent for up to two years.

It’s the kind of support that’s becoming more and more needed, says Walker, as homelessness rises across the country and the cost of rent makes it harder for people to afford housing, in especially those on a fixed income through programs like Social Security Disability Insurance. . Along with losing access to stable housing, Walker says, people are losing access to their communities.

“Homelessness can be life changing, it can be a matter of life and death,” Walker told Insider. “Why not take advantage of this opportunity where you can have your own space?”

“The whole goal is to help people be self-sufficient”

Rent rose at its fastest rate since 1986 this summer, with just 20 months of consecutive increases rupture in August. Inflation doesn’t help either. It is above a national housing shortage making home ownership out of reach for many.

Shelters across the country have felt the effects. As Abha Bhattarai and Rachel Siegel of The Washington Post reported in July, shelters have experienced a surge among people looking for accommodation, with waiting lists having doubled or tripled in recent months. The number of homeless people outside of shelters is also likely increasing, experts told the Post, in encampments, parks and other public spaces since the pandemic began.

On top of that, the federal pandemic eviction moratorium ended Last year.

Walker’s organization is just one of many across the country helping people navigate a deepening national crisis.

“On average, we subsidize them for about six to eight months,” Walker said. “It all depends on the individual – everyone is different, some we pay longer than others.”

In addition to assisting clients financially, Walker’s organization employs social workers to help with any issues they encounter when they start renting. Some of their clients also receive assistance in the form of housing vouchers from the government.

“The goal is to help people be self-sufficient,” Walker said.

“Not only are they building their rental history, they are reacclimating to the community”

One person who received housing assistance from the center is Eric Perkins, who NPR’s Jennifer Luden first reported. Perkins told NPR he lost his home after a series of health events, including chronic lung disease and a heart attack in 2017, which limited his ability to work. He lived on the beach for a while, then moved to a homeless shelter. Today, thanks in part to the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center, he lives in his own apartment.

But it was a tough journey to get there. His monthly disability benefit — less than $800 — is less than the Virginia Beach median rent over $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment. It is common for many people receiving disability benefitswho have found themselves homeless in the face of soaring rents, unable to pay their bills or go to work.

But the center paired Perkins with a roommate, and he’s now paying $600 a month in rent, even though he initially feared living with a stranger.

“I was really skeptical because of the things I saw inside the shelter,” he told NPR. “A lot of drug use, a lot of alcohol abuse, PTSD, there were a lot of veterans there. … I was like, ‘I don’t want to be in a house with someone like that. “”

He ends up feeling comfortable with the arrangement.

“We got to know each other, we respected each other’s space, we shared everything,” he says. “It was really nice.”

Customers aren’t the only ones being cautious about living conditions, Walker said. It is difficult to find landlords who are willing to have tenants who have experienced homelessness and who are often financially insecure.

“Usually we try to get involved with people who care about homelessness,” he said, adding that landlords tend to take comfort in the outside support his organization offers.

“When they walk in, they don’t just say, ‘OK, here’s the person, goodbye,'” Perkins owner Sophia Sills-Tailor told NPR. “They help them set up housekeeping, giving things like blankets, pots and pans. And then they come to see them.”

To research shows that providing housing subsidies, along with case management and support services, can help people experiencing chronic homelessness achieve long-term housing stability. Investments in permanent supportive housing have helped reduce the number of chronically homeless people by 8% since 2007, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. found.

However, organizations like Walker’s bear the brunt of this type of work. The housing shortage and rising rents have attracted little attention of Congress, with Senate Democrats scrapping spending on affordable housing earlier this year.

Walker said connecting people to an initial long-term housing situation after being homeless is important for their long-term stability.

“Not only are they building their rental history, they’re reacclimating to the community,” he said.