11/21/2013 01:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Ultimate Stocking Stuffer: A Room

With the holidays around the corner, I start getting questions from many volunteers about how they can help those in our community who are struggling. There are so many thoughtful ways through donations of cash or gift cards or food or clothes. But now I have added another one to the list: rent us a house or room.

Yes, that's right. We are in serious need of housing to help families that are homeless, so we are getting creative. Along with other nonprofits statewide, we have been challenged by Governor McDonnell to rapidly re-house as many families as we can in the next 100 days. We are aiming for 20 families.


Rapid re-housing is cost effective, and proven to work. Families are housed in market-rate apartments or houses in the community, and receive rental subsidies and/or services that are tailored to their specific needs, including a caseworker to help ease the transition and assist with any problems. We make it easy for landlords too who receive the assurance that they can call the caseworker if there are any problems.

From 2010 to 2013 family homelessness in Virginia decreased 17 percent, largely due to rapid re-housing. But it's still a serious issue here in Fairfax County where almost 58,000 people live in poverty, based on federal guidelines, and many have to make decisions between putting food on the table and paying rent. Of these, 1,500 people are homeless in the county -- many of whom are children. We serve hundreds of these families at FACETS -- a Fairfax-based nonprofit serving those suffering the effects of poverty, but housing is scarce and we know shelter is not the best answer for families.

With affordable housing in such short supply, we simply must find more avenues to secure housing. That's why we are asking private landlords who own rental properties to consider letting us rent their homes. Or if you are a homeowner who has extra space or an in-law suite, rent us your room.

In fact, we recently had a volunteer donate space in her house to help a client named Mary who was experiencing homelessness due to the cost of housing and some health-related issues. We are also working with a landlord, who has experienced homelessness in the past, and stepped up to take a chance on several working families; giving them a home and hope for the future. These exceptional acts of generosity and understanding are helping Mary and others stabilize their lives and get the services they need so they can once again become stable and achieve their goals.

If you are looking for a non-traditional gift to help the community or simply need to rent a home, consider adding FACETS or other local housing-related nonprofits to your holiday list. Enabling our clients to be renters and have the dignity of living in a safe, warm home with their families will make a great holiday present and is the ultimate act of kindness.