BY LINDLEY ESTES

Gary Kline and Kerry Korn are still settling into their Charles Street apartment.

They haven't quite finished unpacking but already have projects planned such as sanding and staining the coffee table they acquired Tuesday.

The roommates were homeless up until a month ago when Micah Ecumenical Ministries helped them find an apartment in Fredericksburg that they can afford.

Now thanks to several housing grants, a coalition of Fredericksburg-area homeless service providers will be able to help more people like Kline and Korn get off the streets and out of temporary shelters. The coalition includes Micah, Empowerhouse, Thurman Brisben Center and Hope House. They call the new effort the "Pursuit of Housing Campaign."

Funding for the campaign signals a shift in national and state policies toward housing-first programs rather than traditional shelters.

Kline said that the apartment has made life a lot easier.

"If you don't have an address, you can't even get a library card," he said. "You're nobody unless you have an address."

Kline became homeless over a year ago when his health began deteriorating and he could not find a job.

He lived in his van until he had to have heart surgery on Jan. 1.

"That's how I started the year," he said. He then spent time between his van and shelters until he was approached about the possibility of housing.

Over the last nine years Korn said he's been homeless about 18 different times. He said his alcoholism contributed to his problems, but the new apartment and being in a recovery program are helping him.

Kline summed it up this way: "We can live like human beings here."

They have been able to reconnect with family at the apartment.

Last week, Kline's 12-year-old daughter visited, and Korn's 4-year-old grandson spent time there over the weekend.

"It's brought us back together," Korn said.

Through the "Pursuit of Housing Campaign," the organizations received more than $500,000 from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to help house the homeless.

Pooling their money together, the coalition hopes to transition at least 70 individuals or families from the streets or shelters into permanent housing over the next year.

The grant pays for part of the rent for a set time period. Participants in the program typically have some income through disability payments or part-time jobs. The grant money is intended to offer the homeless a chance to get in a home and back on their feet financially.

Meghann Cotter, director of Micah Ministries, said that historically all grant funding has been designated for specific organizations. But with less funding dollars available and more need in the community, they saw a need to collaborate.

"It's a natural fit," said Tara Best of Hope House. "With all of us combined, we can fill the homeless gap. When we work together, from every angle we're coming from, we tackle the problem as a whole."

Each group is able to identify different people in the area to be housed.

Micah, supported by a group of area churches, works with long-term homelessness issues and provides meals and emergency cold-night sheltering.

The Thurman Brisben Center in the Fredericksburg Battlefield Industrial Park works with the at-risk and the newly homeless to provide temporary shelter while helping people get back on their feet.

Hope House provides homeless mothers and children with housing, as does Empowerhouse, a domestic violence program that helps women and children in at-risk situations. Both are in Fredericksburg.

Bunny Melzer of Thurman Brisben said that the groups have worked together for years, but their collaboration was just never on paper.

After the organizations find someone who needs housing, they begin the application process and refer the household to the Central Virginia Housing Coalition. There, Ben Phelps, housing locator, helps find rentals and talks to them about budgeting, being good tenants and the details of the lease.

Once they're housed, the individual or family returns to the original organization for case management.

The funds received support the commonwealth's goal of reducing homelessness by 15 percent by 2013.

Cotter said that the housing-first approach is gaining ground, and the shelter or street-first approach to homelessness is falling out of favor. Having a home is a powerful incentive for clients to do whatever it takes to keep that home, she said.

Kathy Anderson of Empowerhouse added, "They can do things they never dreamed of when having to find a place to sleep . And it's more on what they want to achieve rather than what others want them to."

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976

Email: lestes@freelancestar.com

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