Priced Out: Navigating affordable housing in a housing crisis

The Family Gateway said a lack of affordable housing is a primary cause of homelessness in families.
Published: Oct. 11, 2023 at 6:51 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 12, 2023 at 6:58 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - The Department of Housing and Urban Development reported more than 580,000 people in the U.S. were experiencing homelessness in 2022.

That’s up about 2,000 people since 2020.

The Family Gateway said a lack of affordable housing is a primary cause of homelessness in families.

As the number of people living without permanent housing has increased in the U.S., it has also increased in the Valley.

“Before the pandemic, we were serving around 20 people. We did reach 40. When we were at Ridgefront or D Hub at JMU, we were seeing 50-60 people. The need is certainly there and it continues to rise,” said Nate Riddle, Executive Director of Open Doors.

Open Doors is a thermal shelter that serves people in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Riddle said in its 2022-23 thermal season, Open Doors served 172 individuals.

27 guests found a housing solution.

“We always talk about affordable housing, but the housing has to be available, so we go back to the vacancy rate, but it also has to be accessible. We have folks who maybe don’t have a clean criminal record, but they run into so many barriers achieving a solution because a criminal record is a huge portion of your rental application. Substance use can be a big barrier. These people still deserve these long term solutions,” said Riddle.

He said there is not one solution for homelessness. Lydia Campbell, Coordinator of the Valley Homeless Connection, agreed, and she added - there’s no one person who can solve homelessness.

She said the pandemic made homelessness a household topic, showing the nation who the most vulnerable community members are.

“Once the pandemic no longer became this imminent threat, the fact remained that our very vulnerable individuals remained,” said Campbell.

Riddle and Campbell work to move people from temporary housing to a permanent solution. Often, that requires subsidized housing, and for that, they need units.

“We need more landlords that are willing to give folks a chance. we have many that we work with, but if there’s any private property owner who is willing to give our folks a second or third chance, that would be one thing that would be wonderful,” said Campbell.

Aside from places for people to stay, Campbell said Valley Mission can always use donations, like blankets and tents in the winter.

Riddle and Campbell said the next step toward a solution is keeping an open mind.

“Change happens when folks are speaking about it. We encourage folks when the shelter is open to join us Socialize with folks, know them by their name and continue to raise awareness of the issues,” said Riddle.

Campbell said national systems lack many protections, and the system won’t be fixed overnight.

“I saw something on social media earlier this morning that said ‘you have more in common with the person experiencing homelessness than you do the billionaire,’ and that’s the truth,” she said.

Localities continued to address homelessness in their own ways individually. Harrisonburg broke ground on its permanent homeless shelter and resources center in September.

Valley community leaders, non-profits and stakeholders met Oct. 6-7 for a Housing Summit in Staunton. Attendees learned about the issues facing the Valley and how to solve those.