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COLUMN — Needs of the homeless continue through the pandemic

The STEPS family, with the gracious support of community partners and sponsors, traditionally holds a February “Soup and Sandwich” fundraiser in Farmville to help support programs to assist those facing homelessness.

Our staff always enjoys connecting with the community over a donation-only meal. Your giving hearts have always made the event a success and helped to support STEPS’s ongoing mission of “Moving Lives Forward.”

It was not possible to have the fundraiser this year given the realities of COVID-19. The virus has been the unwanted gift that keeps on taking and hurting people in the area we serve, which includes Amelia, Buckingham, Cumberland, Nottoway, Lunenburg and Prince Edward counties.

Sharon Harrup

Sadly, homelessness has not abated in the face of COVID. Poverty is something the best of intentions of the heart cannot wish away; individuals and families continue to fall into crisis.

STEPS remains committed to providing case management services for those who are homeless or at risk of being homeless through the Virginia Homeless Solutions Program, a program funded by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. We also continue to assist people in overcoming poverty barriers, provide homeless individuals and families hotel stays as well as partner with other community resources to shelter individuals. Additionally, we work to rehouse those receiving shelter assistance and provide limited assistance to tenants facing court eviction proceedings.

Sadly, the threat of homelessness is here and very real. From July 1 to Dec. 31 of last year, STEPS provided 225 individuals in 106 households shelter services. Thirty-eight of those households included families with children. 

Meeting the community need depends on funding, and when monies are exhausted, there are few available options. It can be a tough hill to keep climbing, even with program funding resources.

STEPS is taking some additional measures by working with a group of community partners to establish a regional emergency shelter consisting of a community center with tiny homes. This will enable us to be less dependent on sheltering individuals in hotels, but it will take some time. We are committed to having an emergency shelter in our region. Your continued support is essential as we provide these services.

The annual fundraiser is our way of sharing the need with the community and offering a chance to partner with us. While we won’t be able to sit down and share a meal with you this year, please remember the mission. And if you want to join us, we’ll be here. Every dollar truly can help to make a difference to a life in need.

Hopefully, we will be able to return to some form of normalcy in the coming months and we will be able to hold fundraisers again. Until then, keep us and those we serve in your prayers.

Anyone wishing to contribute to assist the homeless prevention program can do so by contacting STEPS Human Resources/Financial Manager Ashton Bozo at (434) 315-5909 Ext. 214 or by mailing donations marked “Soup and Sandwich Fundraiser” to 225 Industrial Park Road, Farmville, VA 23901.

Sharon Harrup is the president and CEO of STEPS Inc. STEPS’ corporate offices are located at 225 Industrial Park Road in Farmville. STEPS’ footprint spans an 11-county area in Virginia. For more information on any program, call (434) 315-5909.