Ending homelessness: Residents cheer The Crossings

Does Charlottesville have its own "Million Dollar Murray?" A Malcolm Gladwell-penned piece for New Yorker magazine details the seemingly paradoxical ways in which communities save money by providing the chronically homeless with an essentially free place to live, and the grand opening of The Crossings, a 60-unit residential dwelling, marks an effort to do that locally.

"All of us like to have a place to call home," said Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Huja, who was among several officials to address the crowd at the April 10 dedication ceremony after which several residents welcomed reporters into their new homes.

"I'm still getting used to it," says Karen Martin, 50, who became homeless six years ago after losing her job at McDonald's and, subsequently, her home. A triple bypass surgery-spurring heart condition in 2010 may have pushed Martin to the top of the list of incoming homeless residents, who now number 20, with 10 more more slated to arrive. Thirty market-rate efficiencies will also be rented.

"Instead of thinking of myself as broken, down, and out," said formerly homeless resident Mark Sistrunk, "I now call myself financially challenged and slightly displaced." His comment drew laughter and applause from the crowd.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell hopes to reduce homelessness by 15 percent by the end of his term, said Jim Chandler, the director of low-income housing tax credit programs for the Virginia Housing Development Authority. Chandler said that tax credits generated $3.9 million of the development's $6.6 million pricetag.

In the 360-square-foot unit that resident James Fitzgerald now calls home, the 53-year-old provides a personal history that explains why he just might be Charlottesville's Million Dollar Murray. Citing hundreds of "drunk in public" arrests over two decades of homelessness, he reveals a nasty wound on his wrist that he says he sustained from too-tight handcuffs during a recent arrest.

Fitzgerald apologizes for "the mess" of an unmade bed and a bow-tied trash bag as he gazes out his window toward scrubby trees and a little-used rail spur. Tears fill his eyes, and he's asked to reflect how life might change.

"I think," he says, "it's going to be alright."


So now the reward for 100s of drunk in public arrests is a free home?

6.6 million for 60 efficiencies doesn't sound very "efficient" to me.

Folks... say what you want the emporer is wearing no clothes.....

(and for all the liberal whiners out there, take two minutes and see if you can't make 6.6 MILLION dollars help more than 60 people. ) (and don't forget that annual 240k subsidy that the city is on the hook for FOREVER)

What a joke....

Very glad C'ville has finally something to help these people - which is a hand-up, not out. With a place to live, they have the foundation of making a life back to where they once were or perhaps to where they want to be. We have long had a huge issue with affordable housing in this area and it is time we all look into ways to help end that.

^Bill Marshall, so hope you never are worried that you will no longer have a home, that you don't have an income and you may fall on "harder times". A community that works to help one another is stronger and strengthens itself. Perhaps we ought to take away all your benefits and see where you end up?

All for the hand ups to help anyone who needs it - not hand-outs. You may be suprised by this venture.

I may be homeless someday but I hope the people helping me are at least SMART enough to figure out how to get a roof over my head for less than 6.6 million.

It is the liberals that need to sober up.

When a person who DESERVES a roof because they DID NOT get drunk 100s of times and there is no room at the inn where are you going to get the money to pay for it?

Charlottesville needs some adult supervision.

and nobody "took away" their benefits...

If you have enough money to get so drunk that you get aressted for it you have enough money to find a place to stay.

Why don't you ask some of these folks why their own families gave up on them?

Homes in Keswick sell for less per square foot than this place.

The numbers don't lie.

Anybody else notice the ad on the side for walker square?

Why didn't they just buy them a two bedroom condo for less?

Ah - from my understanding this was built to be an energy efficient and green dwelling which will save those millions in electric, heat and water bills in the future.

http://www.virginiasupportivehousing.org/residences/the-crossings.php, it was a joint effort by our current REPUBLICAN Governor (who loves to make women go back to the 18th century with laws that shouldn't be) and both the city and county.

It is expensive to build these days dude - a home that will sell for $300 K in this area - built when homes were built correctly - 1975 and earlier - to build it exactly as it was - using the same quality and craftsperson level would cost you $600K or more. That is a fact.

Yes, there are homeless out there who may be impossible to help but there are some out there who this will lead to a more productive life and in turn they will pay it forward. Why don't you go try to find a bit of optimisim out there "bill marshall"?

This is what makes Charlottesville a great place, in spite of people like Bill Marshall and all the other tea baggers and haters. A little compassion goes a long way. Thanks to Dave Norris and the others who made this happen.

Speaking of compassion, it is well documented that liberals give less to charities than conservatives (just look at some of Al Gore's charitable contribution figures). The difference is that conservatives will teach a man to fish; liberals will keep giving him canned kipper snacks.
The long-term homeless are overwhelmingly homeless due mental illness and/or substance abuse. Many of the short-term homeless need a temporary fix. The ones who are mentally ill or druggies should be institutionalized.
Please do not try to equate Norris's mantra of "affordable housing" with this place. Murray's problem is not lack of affordable housing or handcuffs that are too tight (gee, is he a boisterous, hostile drunk who yanks on the handcuffs?)...it is long term alcohol abuse. He is a bricklayer--you mean there are no jobs for them anywhere in the USA?
But pols like Norris and Huja think a place to live is the solution.
Great thinking from more libs who work from the "feelings" and not from logic.

R.I.P.: Danny Sweeney, Truck Co. 10

Thanks for the link to Gladwell's article - fascinating . And proves the point that in the long run housing the homeless saves us all money. Dave Norris, the true fiscal conservative in town deserves our thanks for a business savy, compassionate project.

Now the hard part. Finding 30 homeless to occupy this place is the easy part. Getting them motivated to improve their lives will be an entirely different matter. Along with the fact that they are allowed to drink and smoke on the premises will pose a serious issue. How many friends will be able to "visit", who will monitor these "visits"? How long will these folks be allowed to live there? indefinitely? You don't see a lot of motivated folks in these circles, how do you deal with complacency,which will be a factor.?

Ah, right! We should put all the mentally ill and druggies in institutions! That'll solve the problem! Except that we've now closed most of the institutions. Oh, and we've cut funding for mental health services so much that people with chronic mental illness have a hard time finding someone to prescribe them medications let alone give them the therapy and rehabilitation they need. All in the name of "cost saving" so we don't have to raise anybody's taxes.

It costs far more money to repeatedly incarcerate or institutionalize someone than it does to subsidize their housing this way. As a taxpayer, your money is going to subsidize them somehow - you just have to decide where you want the bed. The jail bed or hospital bed costs more, plain and simple.

What bill marshall and liberalace don't want to acknowledge is how complex the problem of the chronically homeless really is. They would prefer to apply the rule that these guys just need to buck up and get it together and get on with life. Can't agree more with part of that but throw in addiction and ruined family relationships (due to alcoholism in many cases) and suddenly you've got someone with whom you're now going to have to deal with whether you like it or not.

If either of them would actually read the Million Dollar Murray article, they might get a glimpse of this complexity. Follow this scenario: Drunk man pisses on building. Police come, arrest him. In jail for 72 hours. Out again, starts to feel ill, goes to hospital, released, gets drunk (from money from panhandling) again, does something stupid, gets arrested, and so on. At each point here between jail, hospital or other services, we've just paid out money to take care of these guys.

I know both Mark and Jimmy (interviewed for this article) and can tell you both of them realize full well the chance they're given to change and turn their lives around. It simply was not happening on the street and frankly there are plenty of studies that will confirm that.

What irks people like bill and liberalace is that they have to pay for it. The problem is that you HAVE been paying for it and ironically, you would be paying for a lot more than $6.6 milllion--that's basically 6.5 "Murrays"--if it were not for this stabilization.

You want to crow about this money but what you don't realize is that you would have been paying it--that and more--if it were not for programs like this. Spend some time looking into this issue, getting to know these guys personally and you come to see that this is a important step in addressing this issue.

As one other post mentioned, now the hard part starts--this is only part of the equation and it is not sufficient in itself. But it is still the right thing to do from whatever political spectrum you're coming from.

Thank you Profugo Amicus! You stated this very well. I know Jimmy and Mark also, and agree with what you said. This is a better use of my tax dollars and resources then criminalizing homelessness. Maybe if this project could have happened sooner, possibly Linda Doig would still be with us.
R.I.P Linda

prodo is WRONG. There is simply no excuse for spending 6.6 million dollars on 60 oversized motel rooms that have to be subsidized by an additional 240k a year by the city (and the loss of 70k a year in property taxes)

If we take your scenarion and multiply it by the number of homeless and drunks to solve the problem your way we would bankrupt the city.

The fact of the matter is that we SHOULD spend the money on instituionalizing people who need it and warhousing people with the bare minimum who are simply chronic drunks. Drunkenses is a self inflicted wound.

With that 6.6 million they could have spent 1 million on a hundred acres in the county, spent 1 million on a giant warehouse with 200 beds. Created a deal with a farmer to "share crop" for food and meat in exchange for using 80 acres. Spent 10 grand on a retired school bus to commute back and forth to the city for jobs and had 3.5 million left over for awards ceremonies for Dave Norris.

There is no excuse for giving a room to a chronic drunk when there actually DESERVING people who gave up drinking, living on the streets who could one day rejoin productive society.

If the judge had sentenced this guy to a road gang everytime he was arrested he would have at least sobered up for the week he was repaying society for the cost of dealing with him.

I think that overall the housing is a good idea if the intention is to truly help build a good foundation for those that live there. That said, I am not sure that choosing Fitzgerald for this article was a good choice. It doesn't really sell the concept to those that are still feeling unsure about it. I do understand that people get to homelessness in various ways, and I think it would have been better if they would have highlighted someone with a background of having lost their job, house, etc, versus someone that is famous for drunkenness arrests. Hopefully this housing will help him move forward, though.

Nice VT Hokie sweatshirt on that first homeless guy! But seriously, I hope all their lives get better, and they get the help they need. Even the Hokies.

Well let's see. The city council has imposed its cure for homelessness. DONE and legally enforced. So your thoughts are mute. And your philanthropy is mandated, legally enforced as dictated by city council. Thats kind of an admission that free will is callouss.

So we move on to more and more social mandates which are financed through taxes and enforced by government. Is that a free society or are we enslaving ourselves. Is government becoming the class of the elites who decide how we live our lives? What will become of individual responsibility?

@Bill M, did you read the New Yorker article? If you didn't, I vote you "the person most likely to be talking out his #$%."

I would rather spend $6m housing the homeless than $6m on bloated defense contractor salaries. If you want to see who is ripping off this country, look no further than the military-industrial complex.

@Dawg, you forgot to mention the "green" movement.

The subsidies may not stop at $240K. The line in the article that grabbed me was, "Thirty market-rate efficiencies will also be rented."

I wonder who will rent an eficiency in a building half filled with the homeless? While I've worked with the homeless in temporary housing settings and sympathize with a number of them, I wouldn't rent an apartment in a building half filled with folks who've made a lot of bad choices in their lives.

If/When that rent doesn't come in, who picks up that slack?

@Bill M---- the USA spends more money murdering innocent civilians overseas than they do on being compassionate to people like Jimmy. personally I find it financially immoral to keep spending my tax dollars warehousing people in the prison system just to feed the prison-industrial complex. Review that for wastefulness of your tax dollars.

"A Malcolm Gladwell-penned piece for New Yorker magazine details the seemingly paradoxical ways in which communities save money by providing the chronically homeless with an essentially free place to live,..." Murray is being thought of as the typical homeless person. He is not and the money he may be costing the system is not typical either. However, I know that people feel more comfortable in their so-called charity when they use stereotypes. The fact that society actually saves money by giving a homeless person a place to live has not been agreed upon by the social scientists that have looked at this issue and, indeed, does not make sense. It will not keep them out of jail (unless they are sentenced to home arrest) and it will not keep them out of the ER. There is no causal relationship at work here. Having a home does not prevent alcoholism and alcoholism does not cause homelessness. Many of the homeless are not guilty of substance abuse. Getting drunk and hitting your head on the sink in your apartment will not keep you out of the ER either. The City went into this project without actually studying it. Dave Norris heard about these SROs and found Virginia Supportive Housing already operating in VA. He then convinced Council to spend public money, not his, on this project. He deserves no kudos. It is the public who actually did not protest this project that is responsible for its moving forward.
@perspective, you ask some good questions. Unfortunately they will go unanswered. We will not know what progress the residents will make toward self-sufficiency, what is the reduction in their going to prison or ER, how much money the City will contribute to subsidizing rent for these units each year, the cost of operating or the costs of maintenance. We will not know how many will undergo substance abuse treatment or complete it successfully. Will will not know how many move out and back into homeless. We will not know how many will get kicked out. We will not know how many get a GED, job training or securing permanent employment. You see this is a "feel good" project. Out of the 200+ homeless in the area, we are housing 30. That will not "end homelessness as we know it," according to Dave Norris. It will not even put a dent in it. But, we can go on our merry way feeling good about ourselves with a clear conscious (because we do not have the answers to the questions).
@Cville native and Hook reader, obviously you two have found employment on the cortner of 4th and Preston. Nobody could suck up like that except for an employer.

Councilor Kristin Szakos recommended that the City put up statues that will balance out the statues of Lee and Jackson. Maybe we should put up a statue of Dave Norris. Perhaps The Crossings or Jefferson School would be appropriate sites if not Lee or Jackson parks. Or we could put a statue of him in each of Lee and Jefferson parks.

@Cville Eye, there is corresponding research on people with chronic mental illness--just having a place to live makes a huge difference in their being able to stabilize themselves and make something of their lives.

It bears mentioning that the disappearance of the SRO hotels, even though they had many problems, contributed greatly to the increase in homelessness. If developers thought they could make money building them, I'm sure we'd have plenty of SROs for homeless or nearly homeless people. Because there is no profit in it, it falls to the government to fill the gap. I agree that some data should be collected on the people living there now to see how well the experiment works.

It's a fact that some people are just broken. Yes, they have made bad choices, but does that mean they deserve to die on the street? A civilized society does not go that route; nor does it lock up people who are not particularly a danger to themselves or others. Having a place to live can keep many people out of jail, especially those who deliberately get arrested so that they can get food and shelter.

The City in its wisdom 50 years ago, took someone's land and made someone homeless on this very land when vinegar hill was taken. Hopefully a descendant of someone whose very land was taken for this doesn't need help. If they do, they should be at the top of any list to get an apartment.

@Dawg..."Not particularly a danger to himself or others" not being locked up? The cops do it all the time when they arrest a drunk walking along I-64 or a drunk running into traffic on the Corner. The fact is that these people are a danger to themselves and others by virtue of their chronic substance abuse.

I am not for putting them away a la "Cuckoo's Nest." But that is the stereotype the libs would like you to believe: the cold, unsympathetic, profit-driven righties. What we despise is lefties like Norris who produce non-efficacious solutions to complex problems using tax dollars knowing--that when the solutions fail--we just go back and pickpocket productive citizens again.

Do you think the homeless problem will improve long term? We have a generation of kids being raised not to value education, not to value working hard, who seek get-rich-quick lifestyles, and who abuse alcohol and drugs earlier than ever. Where will they be at age 40 or 50? But again, it's the liberals who do not want to "judge" broken families, bad behavior, dysfunction in the home and school...they just want to toss money at it.

And if you want to see the efficacy of this Norris approach, come back in three or four years and see how "The Crossings" looks and see what became of the 30 tenants. But we will not hear that; we will see news stories about the two out of 30 who made it, not realizing that the other 92 percent of homeless were not really helped long-term by this.

R.I.P.: Steve Fredericks

Liberalace, I was referring to the idea that people who are not a danger to others being locked up, as someone upthread suggested. That is not a great idea. Of course a drunk wandering along I64 is a danger to self and others.

The fact is that not everyone can or will make it. 2 out of 30 sounds like a good statistic to me. Not all at the Crossings are substance abusers; many have mental illness or low IQ. I don't know what you think is going to work for these people. Conservatives have cut social programs to the bone.

"We have a generation of kids being raised not to value education, not to value working hard, who seek get-rich-quick lifestyles, and who abuse alcohol and drugs earlier than ever."

I really don't see that. AOD abuse rates are a lot lower among high schoolers now than they were when I was a kid, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. What I see are a bunch of kids with good educations who are living with their parents, in part because they have so much student loan debt that living on their own is almost impossible on entry-level wages.

Cville Eye, that's pretty funny. No, I don't work at 4th and Preston. But I grew up in Charlottesville and new and loved people like Mary Ann and Bill Elwood and Drewery Brown. Do you remember them, or are you one of the new-comers here, the new breed of "conservatives?" I'm proud that Charlottesville can provide places like the Haven and the Crossings. I pay taxes, so don't worry. I love that the good people of Charlottesville still want to help others.

"it is well documented that liberals give less to charities than conservatives (just look at some of Al Gore's charitable contribution figures)."

Well documented where but in your imagination? I call BS on made up factoids like that...

@ Angel eyes, google charitable contributions, you will be surprised.
@ C'ville eye, I think what Szakos has in mind is a couple of statues of herself scattered around town.

I was told at a meeting with a developer who was going over the plans for land adjacent to us not to say "homeless" but to say "housing challenged" person. I suppose we should not say alchoholic any more as they would be "sobriety challenged" person. I see the luxury apartments Arden Place look massive and mostly empty to me. So I hope he won't be "mortgaged challeged" soon.

Matbe we should refer to liberals as "conservative challenged?"

huh, so should I quit my low paying job and become homeless, so I don't have to pay $600 a month for a dump in Belmont & get a newly built place?

@Hook reader, I was born here 81 years ago. I can not ever remember a time when Bill or Mary Ann Elwood or Drewary Brown ever championed a welfare program. In fact Drewary Brown directed the Opportunities Industrialization Center which promoted education and job training, not welfare. When Mr. Brown's home was razed on S. First ST for urban renewal, he did not move into Westhaven but choose to stand on his own two feet. I do not know why you are invoking any of those names.
Subsidized housing is not a liberal or conservative concept. I guess you would be surprised to know that there would have been no Westhaven if the bankers and downtown business owners had not supported it. Many landlords/owners have been rewarded handsomely for their support through cash received though tax credits and Section 8 vouchers. VSH did not build the Crossings primarily as a vehicle to help people but they recognize it is a BUSINESS that pays the staff's housing costs and other bills. That's why they are getting good salaries.

I have my doubts about how well this will work. The article said the Crossings will not accept people with ceretain criminal convictions- so these individuals then may remain homeless.
Had a friend once who would try to help some of these "street people" by renting them rooms very cheaply in her home in Belmont about twenty years ago. Usually didn't work, they couldnt seem to come up with the modest rent(but usually had momey for drugs or booze), as well as other problems like trashing the place or stealing.
Maybe the solution for some of these dysfunctional individuals would be along the lines of the oldtime "poor farm" which provided shelter for the indigent without other resources in exchange for their labor in helping to raise to raise food, maintain the premises, etc.
But that would only work if people were willing to work and obey rules of society. The problem with some individuals is that they are not willing to do that.

They originally said that no one would be admitted unless they had a job. Having a job would indicate that they were trying to have a better life and just needed a helping hand. That criterion changed before they actually built it.

But I will say a lot of those 24yo "kids" living at home with student debt should never have gone to college anyway. College is a huge scam for many students, a wonderful marketing ploy to convince the masses that a college degree is your ticket to wealth. For many, it is. But kids should be educated early on to discover what you love, pursue and be the best at it you can. For docs, engineers, teachers, attorneys, etc., that means college. For broadcasters, journalists, plumbers, computer types, auto mechanics, etc., that means learning the trade, being erudite, and taking a biz course or two to learn basic business practices.

It also means being mobile: moving to where the jobs are. I think we could reduce college enrollment by 25% and lose nothing as far as a skilled society is concerned. Does the advertising sales exec at WVIR really need a college degree? If you wanted to be a police officer, could you get a good LE education in two years of college versus piling on electives? If you aspire to be an LE executive, then get the BS and MS later on (like people used to do).

More people are going to college now than before, but we claim to be falling behind in skills and talent pool. What exactly are they learning for their $50,000?

R.I.P.: Kurt Cobain

@Cville Eye - you are blind.

I do not work at 4th and Preston but I am a native of this community, educated in the public and private school systems and obtained my degrees in this area. (I have moved away and come back, this area is far superior to raise children than most others.)

Ponder this: " A mind is like an umbrella - only useful when open.”

@Cville Native: Actually some umbrellas are designed to also serve as a cane, closed.