Speaking at the dedication of the newly revamped Carpenter’s Shelter in Alexandria, Va., politicians and industry leaders praised the 250-bed homeless facility, which will also provide counseling and support services for the city’s needy, as a model for combating homelessness nationwide. Congressman Jim Moran (D-Va.), Alexandria Mayor William Euille, and Freddie Mac President Ralph Boyd last week hailed the multipurpose shelter as the beginning of a new age of homeless assistance in Alexandria and around the nation. Boyd called the expanded shelter “a vehicle for changing lives.” Congressman Moran cited the project as a national model for future homeless shelters, and Mayor Euille said that “the cycle of poverty can be broken” with the help of new programs at the shelter. Euille also noted strides that the city of Alexandria had previously taken to combat homelessness, including the creation of a facility in the Potomac Yard area for the chronically homeless.
The $165,000 project includes a day shelter where more than 250 homeless can do laundry and take showers, as well as a winter shelter and an 80-bed residential shelter for temporary residents. The shelter’s expansion, which includes the addition of classrooms and counseling rooms, enables the shelter to broaden and enhance its counseling, case management, and education services.
The renovation was led by HomeAid Northern Virginia, a home building organization that has completed more than 50 projects in the area since its founding in 2001. The local organization, one of 20 chapters in 15 states, relies on the generous donations of builders and contractors, who provide the labor, money, and other resources necessary to complete humanitarian projects.
For the renovation of Carpenter’s Shelter, HomeAid enlisted the support of 20 trade partners, including many local businesses. Developer and home builder EYA served as captain on the project.
EYA, working on its first HomeAid project, was founded in 1992 and builds market-rate, low-income, and nonprofit projects in urban communities in the Washington, D.C., area. Bob Youngentob, EYA’s president and co-founder, spoke at the dedication about the social consciousness that has become an overarching value in his organization. He said his staff worked diligently to renovate the shelter with this in mind.
At the event, special recognition was given to the trade partners, all of whom provided generous financial and material support in the face of the economic downturn. Matt Sheldon, board chairman of Carpenter’s Shelter, noted “these are challenging times for the private sector but also for nonprofits.” He cited the project as an example of what can be accomplished by combining resources.
The story of the shelter’s evolution makes the bold renovation project even more remarkable. Carpenter’s Shelter began in a church basement, later moving to a warehouse, and then to its current location on North Henry Street. A valiant effort by former board chairman Peter Lunt saved the organization from financial doom and led it to its thriving present: a new, debt-free facility with a small endowment that offers assistance to over 1,000 homeless and formerly homeless men, women, and children in Northern Virginia each year. Today, 90 percent of the shelter’s clients successfully make the transition from homelessness.
Although the dedication focused on the good the shelter will be able to accomplish, the extraordinarily difficult problem of homelessness surfaced in a speech made by Nathan Sherman, a client at Carpenter’s Shelter who had been homeless on and off for about four years.
Standing at the mike, Sherman struggled to find the words to express his gratitude before finally uttering a heartfelt thank you that sent emotional tremors through the crowd.
Chris Thompson is a freelance reporter for Builder magazine.
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