HART Initiative

By: Kelly Creswell Email
By: Kelly Creswell Email

The temperatures are dropping, but the number of homeless people in Harrisonburg is growing.

The Harrisonburg City Council pledged $30,000 to help with the homeless problem. The HART initiative, or Harrisonburg and Rockingham Thermal Shelter, could keep dozens off the streets.

With some people on waiting lists for shelters in the Harrisonburg area, the Interfaith Community felt the need to give them a warm place to sleep this winter.

"Our mission is to try and help others, and it's a very helpless feeling when we turn anyone away because we don't have the resources to help them," says Christal Yowell, the Director of Development at the Harrisonburg Salvation Army.

Yowell says there are times when the Salvation Army shelter in Harrisonburg is over capacity with people spending nights covered in blankets on futons and chairs.

"At the rate that we're going right now, the numbers that we're seeing coming into our shelter, if we had more room, we would fill up almost immediately. There's that much of a need," says Yowell.

To help with that need, the Interfaith Association created a short-term solution to this growing problem.

"We recognize that there's the need for long term solution, but there's also a need for emergency intervention because there are people who are spending the night out in the cold," says Jeff Butcher, a priest at Otterbine United Methodist Church.

In a census last January, the housing authority found there were about 82 homeless people in Harrisonburg. The Interfaith Association is starting up an initiative in which churches will offer temporary housing for one week and provide bag dinners and breakfasts.

While this will last the winter, Butcher says he hopes this program will be a stepping stone to a more permanent solution.

"Our part in this is to get them through one night, and then refer them to other organizations and programs that can begin the more transformative work and help them turn their lives around," says Butcher.

At the host church, there will be some type of police presence. So if someone shows up that may be disruptive, police will take care of the situation to ensure everyone else's safety.

The group hopes it will receive another $15,000 from the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority. It is also requesting $20,000 from Rockingham County.

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