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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

STEP housing project nears completion
Helps people rebuild lives
Click to Enlarge
Staff Photo by Charles Boothe: The permanent supportive housing duplex on Bland Street in Rocky Mount will give people a chance to get back on their feet, and have a home in the process.

Monday, November 5, 2012

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

A new housing project for those who are trying to get back on their feet is nearing completion.

The permanent, supportive housing duplex, located on Bland Street in Rocky Mount, may be completed next month, said Jon Morris, executive director of STEP (Support to End Poverty).

"A lot of good people are behind this project," Morris said, adding that potential occupants will soon be screened.

Morris, who has spearheaded this project, said a lot of misconceptions about this type of housing have been moving through the community, but the bottom line is that the duplex is not a homeless shelter.

Rather, he said, it will house families or individuals who can live there indefinitely, as long as they follow strict guidelines.

"They have to lease it and pay rent," he said, with the rent capped at 30 percent of the family income. Case managers will be assigned to the occupants, and their use of the home will be monitored closely.

The housing is only for people who need a home and are willing to contribute what they can, he said, with the preference going to families.

Morris said many in this area are "extremely proud and don't want to ask for help," and it's not always only about money.

"Poverty is not just a lack of money," he said. "It's also a lack of support from family and friends."

Most people have somewhere to go if they fall on hard times and need help, which is often a case of losing a job. But some do not have anywhere to go.

"We want to get them in a house before their health deteriorates," he said, which can happen quickly when homeless.

Providing a home gives them a chance to rebuild their lives, he said, and STEP, along with other community agencies, guides them along the way.

Applications for the duplex will be taken soon and interviews will be scheduled. Occupants will be carefully screened, he said, and they will understand that it will be run like "a tight ship" with many restrictions.

"If they don't try, their stay will be short," he added.

If all goes well, they can stay there as long as they want, Morris said, but some may get back on their feet and want a place of their own.

Each unit has two bedrooms, living room, one bath, kitchen and utility room.

Morris said these housing projects have a record of being very successful.

"It (the concept) works," he said, explaining that it's more cost-efficient than other programs, residents stay longer with better outcomes, and it helps reduce the involvement of police and emergency rooms in their lives.

"They (the housing projects) impact everything (in the community)," he said.

Morris said this project has always been community based and no federal or state money has been used.

"It's all been through donations (money and materials)," he said. "We really nickeled and dimed this house together."

Funds have been raised through many avenues, from running a half-marathon (Morris did this along with fellow Rocky Mount Rotarian Joanna Hudzik who made the suggestion, Margaret Cornwell and Lenore Weiss) to the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour.

"We are still raising money," he said, and a stack washer/dryer, two refrigerators and two ranges are still needed, along with landscaping, towels and dishes.

Much of the labor has also been contributed, and Morris and Mike Smith, STEP's director of housing, have worked many evenings, he said.

Completion of the duplex is now clearly in site, but the road to finding a site for the project has not been an easy one.

Other locations were previously in the works, but resistance from nearby residents, as well government red tape, delayed the project. Morris said misconception about the nature of the housing most likely played a large role in those problems.

A temporary shelter for the homeless is needed here, he said, but this duplex is not a shelter.

"We didn't communicate exactly what we were doing," he said. "We were also promised support in certain areas, and didn't get it."

This time, though, they went door to door to talk to neighbors, Morris said, and "the neighbors (on Bland Street) have been awesome."

Morris uses the same adjective to describe the help from the community with the project.

"We have great partners here," he said.

They include the Rocky Mount Rotary Club, Family Resource Center, Willard Companies, Turner Dock Building, Foundation for Roanoke Valley, West Piedmont Better Housing Coalition, Dean Stone, Rocky Mount Lion's Club, St. Francis of Assisi, Christ Community Church, Franklin County United Way, Stepping Stones Soup Kitchen, Davis Heating and Air, Hodgesville Heating and Air, Lester Mechanical, Doug Moore Electrical, P.A.C. Interiors, Ronile, Ply Gem, Performance Food Group, Member One Federal Credit Union, Franklin Community Bank, Sleep Safe Beds, Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, Rent-A-Center and the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour.

The quest for more of this type of housing will continue.

"We only have two units, but it's a start," he said. "We have been blessed with prayer and faith and the support from our (STEP's) board."

 
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