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Gazette-Mail Charities: Helping the homeless key for Covenant House

By Staff reports

After battling substance abuse and homelessness for years, Darryl was living in a Charleston-area emergency shelter for men in April of 2014 when he learned he qualified as a candidate for Covenant House’s Housing First program. The program helps place the homeless in affordable long-term rental housing as the first and largest step toward stabilization and recovery.

Under the program, housing is not offered as a reward, nor does it have a time limit, so long as its participants comply with the terms of the simple lease agreements they sign. Support services are offered by the program’s three case managers for as long as the participants remain in the program.

Darryl moved into his new rental unit a short time later, and, just as it appeared his fortunes had changed for the better, he suffered a major heart attack.

Darryl used the life-threatening cardiac event, and the hospital stay that followed it, to develop a new outlook on life — one that prompted him to begin doing volunteer work at a local church and later take on a part-time job.

The income from his employment added to his Social Security disability payments allowed Darryl to begin saving money and start to plan how to transition out of the program and into permanent housing of his own. Eight months ago, Darryl successfully graduated from the Housing First program and moved into his own permanent housing unit.

Today, Covenant House’s Housing First program provides housing assistance and support programs to 42 people experiencing chronic homelessness in Kanawha, Boone, Clay and Putnam counties.

“We’ve seen real success with Housing First,” said Covenant House Director Ellen Allen. “It is designed to serve the hardest to house people with the most marginal abilities to find housing on their own,” she said. “Many of these people are struggling with substance abuse and the effects of being homeless for years. The expectation was unreasonable that they could be all better in 30 days” and then qualify for three months of temporary housing, she said.

In addition to Housing First, Covenant House, now in its 35th year, operates two group home residences in Charleston for people with disabling medical or mental health issues who may otherwise be living homeless.

The two programs not only present “a kinder, more compassionate” approach to the chronically homeless and homeless-prone, but “make sense economically,” Allen said. They do so by avoiding the costs of emergency room visits and incarcerations while providing lease income for 42 area landlords.

“The landlords know we will be visiting our Housing First people once a week to make sure they are taking proper care of their housing and to help them with their budgeting and bill-paying,” Allen said.

The nonprofit social services organization, based at 600 Shrewsbury St. in Charleston, also provides low-income individuals and families in 11 West Virginia counties with emergency funds for eye exams, nutritional supplements, utility payments, rent payments, deposits and other housing costs when financial emergencies arise, operates a food pantry that has served more than 10,000 people so far this year, and hosts a drop-in center where free laundry, shower, mail, phone and referral services are available.

“By the end of this year, our 12-person staff will have had contact with 40,000 people, about 6,000 of them for the first time,” said Allen. “It’s hard to believe the number of people who come through here, and it’s not just people who have been sleeping on the street. We’re seeing more working people coming to us than ever before, often to visit our food pantry two or three days before payday.”

To help Covenant House continue providing aid and advocating for the homeless, please consider making a donation to Gazette-Mail Charities. Covenant House is one of the local agencies Gazette-Mail Charities supports. Donations made to Gazette-Mail Charities’ holiday fund drive go to places like Covenant House, which then put the money to good use helping the homeless in our community.

To help, fill out the donation coupon below and send it with your check, made payable to Gazette-Mail Charities. To give online, go to and click on the Gazette-Mail Charities logo. Donations are tax-deductible. Gazette-Mail Charities is a 501(c)(3) organization.

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