Agency reaches out to help prevent homelessness

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Homelessness is an issue that communities across our region have to deal with, and now an organization in Charleston is shifting its focus to prevent people from losing their homes in the first place.

Covenant House announced changes to its homeless programs on Wednesday aimed to help people before they lose their houses.

Covenant House announced Wednesday that it is changing the name of its homeless Drop in Center to the Service Center, to better fits the needs of the current community.

"We have seen our work evolve to include health issues, the breakdown of families often at the hands of the opioid epidemic," Executive Director Ellen Allen said. "We are seeing a need to prevent homelessness."

Newly released data shows that Covenant House helped prevent 2,215 people from experiencing homelessness last year. That comes as homelessness in West Virginia has decreased by 48 percent from 2007 to 2018.

"If someone loses their home, they literally have no place to go that night," Allen said. "They have to pay past utility bills, they've have to pay a month's deposits and a month's extra rent. It is economically catastrophic sometimes for someone to lose their home, so we think it is really good work to prevent someone from becoming homeless."

Allen said part of the struggle is coming from the middle class where some people are having to pay around 80 percent of household income toward housing costs.

One person the Covenant House has helped is Darryl Henry. He was homeless and addicted to drugs before he took advantage of the organization's programs.

"I was strung out, down on my luck, homeless," Henry said. "I used to be a problem in this community and then I come to the Covenant House and trusted in them. They trusted in me with little things, and the more I came around the more they help me."

Henry said he now lives a clean and productive life that includes volunteering at the place that helped him get clean and into a home with his wife.

"When I needed help, they knew the people to send me to, and I was willing to accept the help," Henry said. "Before I thought I could do everything on my own and it never worked out for me. To have someone who is willing to help you help yourself, it means a lot. Kind words, a handshake, a hug, it can make you feel good about yourself."

in addition to helping cover living expenses, the new center will offer free food and laundry. Covenant House also has a new medical clinic that is open Tuesday and Friday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon. It offers primary care, HIV testing and referrals to help other medical issues.