PACEM Expands Services

There’s a strong correlation between chronic homelessness and substance abuse problems. This presents itself as cruel irony to some homeless citizens in the area — of which there are approximately 175 in Central VA, in total — who find that they can gain access to the Salvation Army shelter if they’ve been drinking, but aren’t eligible to stay at the Mohr Center unless they’re drunk. It is to help those who fall between the two that People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry (PACEM) was founded by local activist Dave Norris last year. They were open last year from November 15 through March 18, working with 36 congregations in the area to provide shelter in a season when sleeping outside could lead to serious illness or death.

PACEM opened a month early this year, thanks to increased support, and opened for service on the 15th, John Yellig reports in today’s Daily Progress. They’ve also gotten a pair of grants, one that is letting them expand into providing emergency shelter for women and children, and a second that will let them hire a caseworker.

The program seems to be working. A Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission survey taken last January reported a 40% drop in people who said that they couldn’t find any shelter, and a 61% drop in people who had difficulty finding shelter.

10/24 Update: Be sure to check out Dave Norris’ great comment explaining PACEM’s mission.

3 thoughts on “PACEM Expands Services”

  1. I mean this in as sincere of a way possible, but is there any indication that the program is making an impact on the homelessness rate? I’m firmly aware of the benefits of tending the homeless (so please don’t presume that I’m criticizing), but I wonder if PACEM is affecting the long term situation.

  2. I’m not sure that it’s within PACEM’s mission to reduce the homelessness rate. I think Dave Norris sums up the organization’s mission pretty well when he says the goal is to have a pillow under everybody’s head at night.

  3. Duane–Excellent question. To a certain extent, Waldo is correct, in that PACEM’s basic mission is to provide a warm, safe place to sleep for people who would otherwise be out in the cold during the winter months. Last winter no one died from exposure on the streets of Charlottesville (yes, it does happen) and we consider that a victory.

    Like any right-thinking social services agency, however, our ultimate goal with PACEM is to put ourselves out of business, by eliminating the very need for our services. Beyond providing wintertime shelter to the homeless, there are a number of things that PACEM is doing to bring down the actual rate of homelessness in our community. I’ll briefly mention just three:

    1) On a macro level, PACEM was instrumental in getting the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to create a region-wide 2012 Task Force on Ending Homelessness . This Task Force, which includes representatives from the business, governmental, non-profit and faith sectors, is undertaking a big-picture analysis of the systemic causes of homelessness (including the severe shortage of affordable rental housing for the working poor) and how they can be remedied so that homelessness is substantially reduced in our area.

    2) On a micro level, PACEM recently created a “Guest Advocate” position (thanks to grants from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation and two private family foundations), who will be helping our homeless guests to access services and support in areas of housing, employment, drug/alcohol/mental health treatment, disability services, veterans’ benefits, etc. We are confident that this position will allow many of our guests to overcome the barriers that prevent them from maintaining stable housing.

    3) This past spring, PACEM approached the Piedmont Housing Alliance about the possibility of working together to develop our area’s very first SRO (Single Room Occupancy) housing facility (supportive, permanent housing for the homeless). PHA was very receptive to this idea and I’m pleased to report that just this month, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development awarded PHA a pre-development grant to get an SRO started here in Charlottesville.

    Waldo and Duane, thanks for providing this opportunity to shed a little more light on the work of PACEM. If any of your readers ever have any thoughts or suggestions for us (or any volunteer time or funds to offer!), please do not hesitate to contact us through our Web site,

    — Dave Norris, Executive Director, PACEM

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