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."