By Olivia Overman
What began as an outreach ministry of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church in Woodbridge has transformed into an integral charity helping the homeless in the Prince William community. StreetLight Community Outreach Ministries was formed as a nonprofit in 2004, with the primary goal of raising money to house the homeless. Today, the ministry owns three houses and leases six apartments used for the homeless, runs a food pantry and clothing closet, runs a year-round shelter, provides cooked meals on a weekly basis to those in need and also provides financial assistance for crisis needs, such as rent evictions, rental deposits and utilities. StreetLight is also currently fundraising for the Hope Center Project, a facility that will provide affordable housing for homeless adults.
Every week for the past 20 years, StreetLight has served a buffet dinner to an average of 150 homeless men, women and children. “Area churches and civic groups participate in a rotation schedule to serve at this dinner each Wednesday night where approximately 25 volunteers and six staff serve the homeless
a wholesome dinner,” said Rose Powers, executive director of StreetLight Community Outreach Ministries.
But it is not just food that is being served at the banquet; StreetLight also has three case managers available to assist those attending with case-management issues as well as to provide other services such as I.D. replacement, clothing, propane distribution and spiritual counseling.
Asked how they get the word out to the homeless, Powers said, “We have been hosting this event for 20 years; the homeless learn of this event easily through word of mouth. Our outreach case manager also visits campsites on a weekly basis to assess needs and build relationships, but he also reminds the people
of the dinner. Many of the same people do attend week after week. Regular attendance is encouraged, because it allows us to strengthen relationships and to speak into their lives with the ultimate goal to help them obtain jobs or benefits and to help them obtain permanent housing.”
Food Pantry and Clothing Closet
StreetLight has a food pantry that provides a variety of meat products, fresh produce, canned foods, boxed foods, bread and some dairy products to those in need every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Supplies for the pantry are collected on a daily basis from three area grocery stores and 10 restaurants.
At StreetLight, housing is considered a basic need that plays an important role in an individual’s well-being, health, safety and quality of life. As such, the charity provides permanent supportive housing for 25 individuals who are either disabled, medically fragile or considered chronically homeless. Group housing is provided on a same-sex basis, with each individual receiving his/her own bedroom while sharing common living areas.
StreetLight recently took over operation of the PWC Thermal Shelter and extended its operation to a year-round shelter. “Through the StreetLight Overnight Shelter, we are able to provide shelter, a wholesome dinner, showers and case management support for 48 homeless adults every night of the year. This is the only county shelter where many of our homeless adult population are allowed to stay,” said Powers.
Supportive services include case management, life skills support, job readiness, placement in recovery programs, and transportation to and from job interviews and doctor visits.
Speaking about the help he received from StreetLight, Nathaniel, a client of StreetLight said “I don’t think I would be alive today if weren’t for StreetLight. I thank God that they were able to give me a home.”
Nathaniel was living behind a Wawa and undergoing dialysis treatments three days a week. He was unable to work because of his illness and lost everything. One day a passerby told him about StreetLight, and he was given a home, in-home nursing care services and the support he needed to get his life back in order. Nathaniel graduated from StreetLight and now lives successfully without assistance from the charity. Nathaniel is just one of StreetLight’s success stories!
StreetLight provides financial assistance for rent evictions, rental deposits for people who are homeless, emergency hotel rooms, utility cut-offs and prescriptions. Funds are also used to ensure propane and supply tents, sleeping bags, tarps and water are delivered to the unsheltered homeless.
Providing such assistance is possible primarily because of private donations. “We mail out quarterly newsletters and promotional materials, but the bulk of our private donation is raised through our annual fundraiser dinner held in May each year and presentations to church and civic groups,” said Powers.
The Hope Center Project
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires jurisdictions to conduct point-in-time surveys to count their homeless populations. During the latest survey, teams found 52 homeless campsites in Prince William — some of which with as many as 50 tents. The county is able to provide a number of beds in area shelters for some of these homeless people; however, there are so many people that do not meet the requirements for shelter or there is just not enough space available. These people can end up in campsites.
StreetLight aids people experiencing all levels of homelessness and is hoping to take it a step further by building a Center of Hope. This facility will provide permanent supportive housing for homeless adults who typically cannot receive admittance to existing shelters. It will include 52 efficiency-style apartments on four acres, where impoverished families and individuals will receive case-management services, life-skills and budgeting classes, have access to recovery programs and find fellowship in a community through shared meals and social events.
To donate to StreetLight Outreach Ministries, financially or otherwise, please visit thestreetlight.org.
Olivia Overman ([email protected]) is a freelance writer for both online and print organizations. She earned a M.A. in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University, Washington, D.C.