Helping Prince William’s Most Vulnerable Residents
By Olivia Overman
The mission of Woodbridge-based Good Shepherd Housing Foundation, a nonprofit organization that members of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church founded in 1989, is to help provide housing for Prince William’s homeless, particularly those dealing with serious mental illness.
“The foundation has helped families struggling with supporting children with life-threatening diseases, … assisted women and men to return to better-paying jobs through helping with education costs, [also] allowing children to stay in attractive and safe permanent housing in order to continue in the same school, and given men and women with serious mental illness a place to live and be as independent as possible,” said Good Shepherd Housing Foundation Executive Director Pat Johanson.
Good Shepherd Housing opened its first group home, “Shepherd House I,” in 1989, welcoming five chronically mentally ill adults as residents. The project began with a $1,500 donation from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church parishioners Virginia and H.T. Baker, of Woodbridge, Johanson said. The couple was concerned about finding a place to live for their mentally ill adult son, and about helping others struggling with mental illness.
The Bakers worked with the church’s social ministry chairperson Susan Smith to start the foundation, which they launched with donations from other congregation members and a $5,000 grant from Prince William County.
In 1998, the foundation purchased, renovated and opened “Shepherd House II” and that summer also bought what would become “Shepherd House III,” known as the Grayson House for William Grayson, one of Virginia’s first U.S. senators. Each house is designed to provide housing for up to five seriously mentally ill adults.
Over the years, Good Shepherd Housing has purchased and renovated a number of additional homes, thanks largely to federal and county grants. Today, the foundation provides rental assistance for 13 “affordable rentals” and 16 apartments, Johanson said.
“During the course of the year, 134 individuals have been assisted,” she said. “One hundred men, women, and children are living in permanent supportive living programs or in affordable rental townhouses and 30 to 34 men, women and children have participated in transitional living programs.” According to Johanson, the foundation has provided “rapid rehousing funds” to an additional four individuals and six families during the 2014 fiscal year.
Foundation initiatives also include leasing assistance and transitional housing programs for the area’s homeless. The programs complement the foundation’s supportive services, which are designed to help the mentally ill and newly rehoused live within the community. Among support services: psychological care and financial counseling to teach greater self-sufficiency over time.
The foundation assists clients referred by numerous agencies and organizations, including homeless shelters, Prince William County Community Services and the county’s Department of Social Services, Johanson said. Individuals have also referred people.
Johanson highlighted a few of the foundation programs, their qualification guidelines and a little about them:
Shepherd Homes and Shepherd Leasing Program: Individuals must have a serious mental illness. Many clients in the program have been hospitalized a number of times, lived in campsites or on the streets and require on-site case management and access to an array of mental health services. For many, just living in a group setting and managing their medications is a sign of success.
Affordable Rentals: This service is primarily for families who earn up to 40 to 50 percent of the median income in Prince William. As long as income and employment eligibility requirements are met, families’ and individuals’ leases are renewed yearly.
Transitional Living: Eligible families can receive transitional living assistance for anywhere from six months to two years in one of the foundation’s programs, and up to three years in its Housing Partnership Program. Families are required to cooperate with a case manager and develop a self-sufficiency plan. There’s also three-to-five year transitional housing available to those who qualify, based on program information on the agency’s website.
All the foundation’s programs include monetary assistance, Johanson said. Good Shepherd guarantees the rent of its clients who live in homes not owned by the foundation. A grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), coupled with clients contributing 30 percent of their income, ensures that rental costs are met.
Good Shepherd Housing Foundation also provides emergency financial assistance and pays for furnishings and education, funded through grants and a 25 percent match from the organization, Johanson said.
The foundation offers mental health clinical services and case management as well through a long-standing partnership with Prince William County Community Services. Johanson estimated that the county agency provides $200,000 in in-kind services. Additionally, the Prince William County Department of Social Services provides partial funding to assist the foundation’s Housing Partnership Program.
How Good Shepherd Operates
Good Shepherd Housing Foundation is a Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO), according to Bill Lake, chief of the county’s Community Planning and Development Division.
A CHDO is a private, nonprofit organization that qualifies for HUD’s HOME Investment Partnerships Program. Known as HOME, the program provides states and localities with grants to fund building, buying or rehabilitating affordable housing for rent or ownership. Many of Good Shepherd’s home purchases and rehabs were made with HOME fund grants received from Prince William County. HOME funds can also be used to provide rental assistance to people with low income.
Community members can support Good Shepherd by participating in Walk for the Homeless, Saturday, Oct. 4. Walk planners have not yet announced the event’s location. Plans are also underway for a fundraising event at the Grayson House to celebrate the foundation’s 25th anniversary. For more information, call 703-730-1078 or visit www.goodshepherdhousing.org, where donations can also be made.
A graduate of American University’s School of Communication, Olivia Overman writes articles for a number of online and print publications. She can be reached at [email protected] .