Family homeless shelter to open in Williamsburg

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The Grace Haven Family Shelter on Ironbound Road. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)
The Grace Haven Family Shelter on Ironbound Road. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)

A new homeless shelter is opening in Williamsburg, and it may be a saving grace for families in need.

The Grace Haven Family Shelter will open its doors to a homeless family this spring. The shelter, a one-story home on the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists campus on Ironbound Road, is the first homeless shelter to cater to families in the greater Williamsburg area, according to Greater Williamsburg Outreach Mission Board Chair Shannon Woloszynowski.

“Grace Haven will be a place where we can provide families with emergency shelter and get people rehoused quickly while keeping families intact,” said Woloszynowski . “It’s difficult to do in your typical shelter environment. We hope this will give us an opportunity to work one-on-one with these families and address their individual needs.”

According to Woloszynowski, families experiencing homelessness are often split up, with mothers and children sleeping in separate shelters from fathers.

GWOM Board members pose on Grace Haven's front porch. From left to right: Treasurer Jasper Gay, Secretary Helen Hansen, Chair Shannon Woloszynowski, Community Kitchen Director Stephanie Slocum, and Vice Chair Carl Gerhold. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)
GWOM Board members pose on Grace Haven’s front porch. From left to right: Treasurer Jasper Gay, Secretary Helen Hansen, Chair Shannon Woloszynowski, Community Kitchen Director Stephanie Slocum, and Vice Chair Carl Gerhold. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)

Grace Haven will house a family for up to 90 days, during which time the shelter director will work with the family to help them re-settle into long-term housing, Woloszynowski said.

The process will include a housing assessment, landlord search, exploring employment options, and listing social programs for which the residents are eligible.

GWOM will also pay for the family’s first-month rent after moving out of Grace Haven, and even send them off with furniture and kitchen essentials, if necessary.

GWOM is a coalition of 22 area faith-based groups that coordinate with one another to address homelessness. The mission operates The Harbor, a day shelter for the homeless, as well as a community kitchen. GWOM Vice Chairman Carl Gerhold said the success of the other programs laid the groundwork for Grace Haven.

“This helps people that are in the transition phase,” Gerhold said. “They’re getting used to being in a permanent house. They’re getting used to being able to say, ‘I don’t have to worry where I have to sleep tonight. I know where I’m going to be. I can worry about other stuff.’”

Gerhold added that Grace Haven will provide a level of stability not available at other area shelters.

“You can expect that children will feel more secure,” said Gerhold.  “Once they feel more secure, then they’re less likely to act out, develop emotional problems and to become a problem in school and in their interactions with other children. We figured that’s got to make a difference.”

According to the Greater Virginia Peninsula Homelessness Consortium, there were at least 130 homeless persons between James City County and the City of Williamsburg in January 2016. The GVPHC conducts a Point-in-Time count, which is conducted by homeless shelters and social service providers.

However, Woloszynowski said that the Point-in-Time count misses many unsheltered homeless individuals, as social service providers simply do not know where to find every homeless person.

GWOM lists area-specific barriers to stable housing, which include high cost of rent, a lack of year-round employment, low-paying jobs without benefits, and a high cost of childcare.

“Homelessness is a 12-month problem,” said Woloszynowski.  “It’s year round, 24 hours a day.”