The rate of homelessness in Charlottesville has nearly doubled in the past five years, and community groups have taken up the task of providing support for those who are left most vulnerable by local housing challenges.
In its central downtown location, The Haven serves as a low-barrier day shelter and starting point for those seeking a path to a sustainable housing arrangement. In the winter months — from October through the end of March — the local People And Congregations Engaged in Ministry organization transforms local churches into places of respite, providing evening meals and sleeping arrangements.
Madison House also organizes a number of services that address homelessness and housing throughout the community, such as its Hoos Assisting with Life Obstacles and Housing Improvement programs. Volunteers with HALO partner directly with The Haven.
Matt Wajsgras, a fourth-year Engineering student and Madison House HALO program director, said his experience volunteering helped him better understand the Charlottesville community surrounding the University.
As a volunteer at The Haven, Wajsgras worked in the kitchen to serve hot meals to guests and at the front service desk, where volunteers address any of the other needs of those who arrive at the shelter. Wajsgras said that this may range from providing amenities such as socks and toiletries, to directing guests to case workers who give specialized support on the path to stable housing arrangements.
“When you get a new guest that hasn’t been there before one of the first things they do is they’ll come up and ask about case managers and what options they have for affordable housing and stuff,” Wajsgras said. “So you do hear a lot about it, and you can tell it’s something that’s one of the primary issues.”