by McKenzie Pavacich, Bria Cook–
CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – Homelessness is something that is often overlooked but extremely prevalent in the New River Valley. How do those in need of assistance survive the harsh winters faced by the valleys of Appalachia? Where do homeless people go when they are in need of food, clean drinking water, or clothes in an area that seems to be prospering in seemingly all areas of life?
To Our House is a non-profit organization, tackling the obstacle of assisting the homeless
in the New River Valley. With the help of local faith communities and local business in the NRV, To Our House is able to provide homeless men with shelter through the winter months, as well as food, support, and help with employment search.
Carol Johnson, Executive Director of the New River Family Shelter and Program Coordinator for To Our House, believes that if it were not for the generosity and genuine care found in the Blacksburg and
Christiansburg communities, “To Our House wouldn’t exist.” Churches throughout Blacksburg and Christiansburg open their doors to the guests of To Our House with hopes of truly making a difference, while organizations within Virginia Tech often donate time, food, or supplies to keep the donations-based program running.
“We have over 50 churches that participate, whether that be housing the guests, which is a host church, or a church can participate as a support church. They provide the food and some evening activities,” Johnson said.
Donations and volunteers are utilized during the winter months in the NRV. To Our House runs a sheltering program from November through March to assist the homeless during some of the most dangerous months to be without shelter.
Participation by local businesses adds to the generosity of the Blacksburg and Christiansburg communities. Businesses peppered throughout the NRV hold percentage days, where a percentage of the profit is automatically donated. The ultimate goal To Our House hopes to achieve is creating a larger sense of awareness of homelessness in the NRV community, so that shelters and assistance programs can grow and evolve from a seasonal functioning program to an organization that can provide assistance all year round.
“It’s not that visible. Sporadically you may see someone standing on the street holding up a sign. But typically, it’s almost like camping for some people. It’s not like in the Richmond area or a city where you’ll see someone on every street corner who is in need of assistance. Most of the men we service stay in secluded spots camping until we open up in November,” Johnson said.
With 19.1 percent of individuals living below the poverty level in Southwest Virginia, according to Virginia.gov, there is plenty of room for improvement. With the help of local businesses and influential organizations within the Blacksburg and Christiansburg communities, To Our House hopes to grow and continue to combat homelessness in the New River Valley and beyond.