Saturday, March 25, 2023

This Hampton church bought a house with spare change. Then, they opened it to homeless vets

As the 75 member congregation at West End Baptist Church emptied their spare change into a collection container each week, they wouldn’t know how far their contributions would go.

Together, the parishioners would buy and fully renovate a home across the street from the church in Hampton with their “Change for Change” campaign and have recently opened “Victory House,” a transitional home for female military veterans who are facing homelessness.

“The need is so great for veteran women… they’re the most underserved population in the veteran community,” said Vernissa Thomas, a Navy veteran and the church’s executive pastor.

Thomas emphasized, contrary to homeless shelters where people stay for a night and then have to remove all of their belongings first thing in the morning, Victory House is a place eight women at a time can call “home” and find their stride again.

“It is my desire and vision to have these women know that they’re safe, know that they’re protected, they’re loved, they’re welcomed,” she said. “The bible says ‘don’t tell me what to do if I’m hungry, feed me first.'”

Donated items and funds have made it possible for amenities including a fully-stocked kitchen, WiFi, and digitally connected televisions in the five-bedrooms — it’s a place, Thomas said, tenants can simply “bake a cake if they wanted to.”

“We’re providing a soft place for them to land where if they desire to go in the kitchen and make a meal, they can do that,” she said. “All of that plays a part in your healing.”

After the previous owners moved out, Thomas said churchgoers became witness to the approximately 1,700-square-foot home become an abandoned hub for squatters and drug use.

The church bought the home in 2016 but recently mustered the resources for new windows, walls, carpet, a roof, and more.

Church members like Deacon Harry Wilson, who once worked for the Hampton Redevelopment and Housing Authority and donated more than $40,000 worth of labor and materials, would have the house completely flipped in just nine weeks and ready to receive its first guest.

“We dedicated the house back to God, we prayed for the women that are going to come through, we cut a ribbon, and we let all of the members go in and see what their change-for-change, their money they’ve been bringing in, has accomplished,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the women are vetted, recommended, and managed by caseworkers while they live at Victory House which is conveniently located less than four miles from the VA Medical Center allowing guests to be shuttled to and from appointments.

Although the church does ask for information about a guest’s criminal past or history of drug abuse, Thomas said managing resources provided by Social Services, AMVETS, and the VA isn’t in the church’s wheelhouse.

“We’re just there to supplement what they’re doing…we can minister to them spiritually, we can love on them, and make them feel like they’re at home,” she said. “People don’t think that you can love somebody back into good health, people don’t believe that but we do.”

For more information about Victory House and the West End Baptist Church, click here. 

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