For a Better Commute. For a Better Prince William County.

Moser: Why are These People Still Living in Woods with Tarps & Tents?

I recently volunteered with my Lions Club at the winter shelter in Woodbridge. The shelter, located on Potomac Mills Road, is open to homeless men and women for overnight use from November 1 through March 31.

We were at the shelter in May for a Meet and Greet. Our Lions Club brought a Sight and Hearing van and we performed vision and hearing screening for any homeless people who wanted that service.

There was an entire contingent of agencies represented at the meet and greet. Several churches were there to offer their assistance. Prince William County Social Services and many not for profit groups were also in attendance.

I was very interested in one group, Veterans First who offers assistance to end homelessness for veterans who qualify. The most impressive words from that group were, “We are fully funded.” I am familiar with a lot of not for profit groups. You never hear those words!

The criteria to qualify for their Friendship Place program is simple.

1. Have you served in the military?
2. Do you have a discharge that is anything other than “dishonorable”?
3. Are you homeless or at risk of homelessness?

There were people at the meet and greet to assist with job placement, mental health issues, and drug and/or alcohol abuse. Our first client got to the head of the line because he had to get out early to be at his AA meeting. Most of the clients were orderly, polite and grateful for our services.

There were only three that bore watching; two of them were challenging and combative, one was under the influence of alcohol.  I imagine anytime you gather a crowd of twenty people, you’ll find about the same ratio of personality or dependency traits.

One fellow had a clever sense of humor and said, “I don’t think I need glasses, but they might make me look good. More hipster.”

So, with all these groups and agencies, churches and organizations willing to help, why are these people still living in the woods with tarps and tents for shelter? Every city, town, county and community has a homeless population. Why can’t we find solutions? Well, actually we can find solutions, but it takes a big effort by a lot of people for a sustained period of time.

I’ve seen task forces come and go. Local papers do a feature and the citizens are outraged that homeless people live in the woods. Suddenly people want to help and groups like Woodbridge Homeless Outreach  are formed, providing food and other necessities to the encampments.

The most promising, evolving movement I’ve seen is the Tiny Village or Tiny House concept. I have no doubt we could build tiny houses for the approximate 500 homeless in Prince William County. I don’t know where there is land to be donated for such projects. I’m uncertain how to maintain and sustain those homes. I would also want some commitment on the part of the folks we shelter in a Tiny Village.

Please take a few minutes to read about a Tiny Village. Watch this video and then let me know what you think might work.

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  • Please note…I am not asking “Why are there homeless?” I totally understand not everyone wants to live in conventional society. I am asking why, if we bring them tents, blankets and food, can’t we provide a better shelter solution? Please read the article and watch the video. This absolutely will not work for everyone…but that does not mean it won’t work for anyone!

  • Gayle Sanders

    Connie, I like your article. It is time to move beyond blankets and propane. Even if they could get a job at $8 an hour (and some have jobs) it would most likely not be full time, not have benefits, and not be enough for an apartment in PWC, even though most are from here, even went to school here. Some are on disability. Many have given up, but haven’t died yet. Danny and I ran the Hilda Barg Homeless Prevention Center for 22 years. We began outreach in 1998 and most of the first people we met have died. There are some we have known a decade or so. Woodbridge Homeless Outreach is not really new, only the name. The Facebook page is just our new approach, having left shelter work. And we limit ourselves and volunteers to the campsites too far from Drop-In to take advantage of the food and water there. Thank you for posting your article on our page.

    • Thanks so much Gayle. Your input is invaluable to all of us. So many folks suggest an apartment building, but collecting everyone into one building is not a good solution. The
      tiny house concept works…they are built on wheeled trailers, so can
      be moved if needed.Much, much less expensive, more easily maintained,
      can be disbursed over a wider area instead of all in one place. For
      someplace like the winter shelter,
      instead of providing beds, they would still have showers available, a
      communal table for meals for those who want to participate, and could
      perhaps add laundry facilities. People living in tiny houses instead of
      tents…that’s basically the only change.

      • Gayle Sanders

        Yes. We’ve been posting about them too. One model is as low as $3K to build a unit. The dignity of a roof, even a small one, and a door with a key is immeasurable. We have heard from concerned friends and relatives of ones who have died and ones still out there. For many reasons families aren’t equipped or the homeless aren’t equipped to live together or sometimes even in shelters. We are not all made the same or with the same defects, and emotional, neurological, or mental burdens cannot always be made to “fit” the same mold. But the mini house concept, with accompanying Harm Reduction models, would save taxpayers money in the long run. Thanks again. Your words effect many.

  • Lynda Silverstrand

    I did some research in the 1990’s regarding “little houses” and went to visit a village in Charlotte, NC. They were not movable and a little larger than these. The most important part was the land acquisition. The city/county owned the land in NC. Where could we put one in Woodbridge?

    • Thanks Lynda! There are about 500 homeless in PWC right now, living on land that does not belong to them. Either they have permission to camp there or they are camping there without permission-either way, the tiny homes on wheels is a better solution.

      PWC does own land appropriate for such use…not large encampments but small encampments. Another location to consider would be federal parkland that already has campgrounds. The mobility of the tiny houses would ensure no one location is overburdened for extended periods of time. (…and I am super impressed you traveled to visit a village in Charlotte!)

  • George Harris

    Maybe this is something to take to the BOCS. Instead of wasting money on artificial turf and lighting for athletic fields, they could use that money to build houses and put them on county owned land. Supervisor Principi runs the free clinic, perhaps he would get behind such an effort. Of course, this may not work since these folks more than likely don’t vote.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, George! It is, indeed something BOCS could address.

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