A month ago, the non-profit organization New Hope Housing was feeling good about helping hundreds of Virginia residents experiencing homelessness get through another winter.

Jan-Michael Sacharko, director of development, said, “If you talked to us then, I would have told you, ‘New Hope Housing last year had a great year.’ We moved over 450 people from shelters or the street to housing. And there were more jobs available, there was good funding available and we had landlords that were willing to work with us.”

But that was then. Now, as the Coronavirus pandemic overshadows almost every facet of life, New Hope Housing is facing a new reality that will affect people experiencing homelessness in many ways. “We were having a really great year last year and this one started off pretty well, and now it’s not a screeching halt, but very nearly so,” Sacharko said.

Among other things, New Hope Housing operates four shelters in Fairfax County, Virginia with the goal of helping their residents quickly find housing and jobs. Working with government entities, landlords and employers, the organization has changed the lives of those experiencing homelessness since 1978. 

It has also partnered with Gifts for the Homeless, Inc. which has provided new and used clothing to New Hope’s clients every winter for many years. “I really can’t stress enough how helpful” GFTH has been, said Sami Smyth, New Hope’s manager of volunteer programs. “We’re really big on dignity and respect at our four sites and a brand new pair of pants, new underwear, new socks — there’s a lot of dignity that goes into that. We’re really glad that we’re able to do that. And the partnership with Gift for the Homeless allows us to.” GFTH, founded in 1986 by the local legal community, supplies clothing to more than 70 shelters in the Washington, Maryland and Virginia area.

Smyth was especially pleased that GFTH’s shipment of $15,432 in clothing arrived early last winter. “It was really cold in November and a lot of times people who do coat drives or hats, gloves, and scarves, come in December. This year we needed it early, and it was really great to be able to open up those boxes and be able to give things out.”

But now, as winter ends and the pandemic grows, new obstacles loom. The very same jobs that New Hope found for residents – at restaurants, hotels and construction sites – are evaporating. “The best way to have someone get into housing is to get them a job so that way have steady income,” said Sacharko. “And so we might not be able to get people steady income.”

New Hope has also been successful in connecting with landlords and communities to place shelter residents in apartments and the like. Rent payments can come not only from salaries, but from Social Security benefits, disability benefits, veterans’ benefits, housing vouchers or veterans’ vouchers. New Hope helps with security deposits. Sacharko worries that landlords may be reluctant to take on tenants who have uncertain income and may have been living in a shelter with 60 or 70 people.

Sacharko stresses that no shelter residents have tested positive, and the staff has stepped up its regular robust cleaning schedule in the shelters. “There’s a deep cleaning going on at every site at least twice a day, 9:00 AM and 6:00 PM,” Sacharko said. “So we’re trying to make sure that it is as sanitary as possible.” Most shelter guests are still staying at the shelter and are practicing social distancing as much as possible, he added. “Very few people have left.”

The organization has limited volunteer access to the facilities because of the pandemic, but it still welcomes monetary donations most of all, as well as clothing and food to be deposited at bins and tables outside. Said Sacharko, “We are trying not to panic. We’re trying to go about things in a calm and reasoned way.”

Note: This is the next in a series of blog posts featuring law firms, organizations, donors, shelters and others who play a crucial role in the work of Gifts for the Homeless Inc., a non-profit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to helping the homeless of the Washington area. If you or your organization have a story to tell, please email tonymauro@aol.com