A one-of-a-kind project located in Newburg that seeks to provide transitional and supportive housing for Southern Maryland’s rising homeless population is making steady progress, thanks to continued efforts from community partners and various Good Samaritans.

For the past few years, LifeStyles of Maryland Foundation Inc. has been working to rehabilitate a 6.5-acre property off of Crain Highway where the old White House Motel sat vacant for over a decade. The newly renovated Newburg campus will feature about 47 units total, complete with full kitchens, bathrooms and a central building for supportive services, education and training opportunities.

The project, called Southern Crossing which is spearheaded by LifeStyles Executive Director Sandy Washington, will accommodate nearly 77 families with low- to moderate-income levels, allowing them to temporarily live in a one- or two-bedroom unit for at least one year and in some cases, up to 18 months.

The idea is not to build a homeless shelter, according to Washington, but rather provide a place that people can call home and where Lifestyles can transform lives by helping them get back on their feet.

“What’s happening right now is that we have a number of people in the community, like builders and developers, that have come together to work on this project which is really kind of neat,” Washington told the Maryland Independent in May. “It has been an amazing partnership. We had guys that came in and finished off the framing. The idea is that if we get wing A and B done, at least we’ll have a full wing done. Those wings are now done. That’s part of what people may have seen going on down there recently.”

“We also had a team of 20 people painting the outside of the building. The floors have been done for the plumbing so that we can lay the pipes,” Washington added. “The project is moving along nicely. As of last week, a major plumber has signed on with us. We’re excited about that.”

LifeStyles, which was founded in 1998 and has dedicated the last two decades to serving underserved populations of Southern Maryland, specifically Charles County, operates its flagship program by developing and managing emergency and transitional housing programs, rapid rehousing and other ancillary services. Southern Crossing aims to bring hope, help and transformation for individuals and families in need, as well as provide overall greater housing diversity within Southern Maryland, according to Washington.

Washington said local real estate developer Jerry Lenhart, founder of the Lenhart Development Corp. based in White Plains, initially took an interest in Southern Crossing following an affordable housing panel discussion that he and Washington were a part of last December. Lenhart felt the project was something that “he needed to get involved in” as a way of giving back to the community.

“[Lenhart’s] comment to me was that there are a number of people that have made money, through the years, building in this community that he knew would love to give back to something like [Southern Crossing],” she said. “And so, he started working with us to make some of those contacts.”

One of the community partners that lent a helping hand to LifeStyles during a special volunteer event on April 27 was Southernwood Roofing and Siding, which voluntarily finished all of the roofing that another contractor had started but did not complete.

“When some of the funds got tight in the beginning, we volunteered to go in and finish up the roof so that interior work could begin to happen,” said Andy Mudd, co-owner and president of Southernwood Roofing and Siding as well as Southernwood Framing LLC, which he founded in partnership with his brother. “Southernwood Framing, which is a sister company of ours, recently went in and did the rough carpentry for four units. This is a little more difficult scope of work so we’re trying to get bigger things done to allow those diligent volunteers to continue their efforts.”

While LifeStyles has worked to provide or link people to all services, Washington said the gap in resources for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness caused the organization to focus on this as the area of greatest need. Part of the strategy entails identifying the population, accessing and determining individual needs, filling in needs that could be filled and documenting where there is a lack of resources.

From helping folks who are living in cars, tents and other places including the streets because they are afraid to seek help in fear of losing their children or for other reasons, Washington said LifeStyles has provided a voice for disadvantaged individuals while interpreting guidelines and eligibility criteria for existing services. The mere fact that LifeStyles “was able to join with citizens all over the country to go out and reach the homeless population” is empowering as “it magnifies” what the organization is “doing locally,” according to an article Washington wrote last year for the Maryland Independent.

“At the end of the day, what we’re going to have is a project that we designed and that we know will work to benefit those families that we’re trying to serve,” said Washington. “One of the things that we’re looking at is an entitlement program where people will definitely have skin in the game.”

“When we service the community, we’re doing it for an individual need basis,” Mudd said. “It’s nice to be able to give back to those that need shelter in a different way. Anybody that has the ability to step up and help should step up and help with this project. It’s an effort to get people back on their feet, get them acclimated back into the community, have them be contributing members to society and all of that will benefit us just as much as anybody else.”

According to 2017 data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the options for affordable housing are incongruous in Charles County as 47% of households are cost burdened or very cost burdened with an estimated median family income of $110,300 for a family of four. For very low-income households that earn between $33,000 and $55,000, approximately 33% of them are cost burdened regardless of ownership or rental status.

In addition, about 26% of low-income households that rent and 35% that own are also cost burdened, “indicating that Charles County has several policies that stand as roadblocks to developing affordable housing,” as noted in a review summary by the American Planning Association’s Community Planning Assistance Team.

“To be able to take this old motel that was vacant and now repurpose it into a home for folks, I think this is a model, not just for Charles County, but one that can be used across the country,” Washington said. “This is going to help those folks that really just need some intensive assistance now, but are not going to need it for the long haul. They just need a hand up right now.”

Because Charles County has recognized the lack of support for low- to moderate-income households, Southern Crossing conforms to revitalization strategies that have been developed by the county’s most recent comprehensive plan.

Awareness to the issue of homelessness in the community and the resources needed, Washington said, are in the forefront more than ever before.

“What I’m going to be heading up is a fundraising campaign for not only the building, fix up and repair [of Southern Crossing], but also for start-up costs to get everything going. We’re looking to raise $3 million,” said community partner Harry Shasho of Shasho Consulting P.A. Commercial Real Estate in White Plains. “We’ve done shopping centers and found out in the middle of construction, when taking the trees down, that there’s a whole tent city [of homeless individuals] out there. Some of the local developers have even put money toward putting them temporarily in apartments, homes or whatever LifeStyles could find. There’s a lot of people out there that need help.”

For Washington, Southern Crossing is a beacon of light for those who have lost hope and don’t know where to turn. She said her hope is that LifeStyles will “continue to be the megaphone” for the individuals it serves and “a voice for the people that no one seems to hear.”

“It’s very important. As a local contractor, we consider ourselves to be a fixture in the community and we certainly want to give that same support back to those who have allowed us to be successful,” Mudd said. “For us, it’s been more of a business relationship [with LifeStyles as] we were asked to be a part of this. I’m sure that there will be more areas that we will contribute to. We’ve been dealing with other community members but Mrs. Washington has extended her grace to us for coming in and helping. We are happy to do it.”

“This is a really good project that will help people get back on their feet. For the business community and LifeStyles, I’m going to try my best to raise some money for them,” Shasho added. “There are some corporate donations and we’re going to go out to the public and just ask for basic donations. We will get the word out to try and get this project up and running.”

Once the living units are ready, Washington said LifeStyles will offer a structured environment for families to receive client-centered case management services, financial education and coaching, credit repair and, ultimately, assistance with security deposits as well as first month’s rent through other funding sources for obtaining permanent housing. The organization also has existing partnerships with various agencies that are able to provide additional services and thus strengthen collaborative efforts to serve individuals who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, according to a press release from LifeStyles.

“Our eyes have been opened to the need of our community, and I really appreciate what LifeStyles is doing with Southern Crossing. That whole concept of a hand up, not a hand out, for people who are low- to moderate-income families really resonated with me,” said Waldorf volunteer Jasmine Waring who became a project ambassador and sponsor along with her husband, former District 3 commissioner candidate and now LifeStyles board member Greg Waring. “I like what Southern Crossing is about because it not only helps those people that are on the verge of homelessness, but also gives them the skills and training that they need to go from where they are to being able to pay rent and take care of themselves.”

From providing pit stops to boost individuals’ morale to assisting in the next level of personal responsibility, Washington said LifeStyles is a “spiraling continuum” that seeks to provide a better quality of life for people in despair.

“We just decided to become very hands on and have been [in Newburg] helping to build. I never, ever really have done that kind of work before but I have a heart to help the people in need. It’s just nice to see [Southern Crossing] coming together,” Jasmine Waring said. “We believe in what LifeStyles is doing and want to be more active in helping people that are our neighbors. You see children in a situation that they didn’t have anything to do with. They can’t help the situation that they’re in and it breaks my heart that they’re in need. But it warms my heart at the same time that LifeStyles has stepped up to help them and their families.”

“I believe that if you give somebody the help they need and an opportunity to grow, they can change the trajectory of their future,” she said. “Volunteering is something that I do in my spare time but I know that it’s an investment in our future. It’s an investment in Charles County. My goal, and hope, is that my kids will be able to be a part of those programs at Southern Crossing and use their skills to help others in need as well.”

To learn more about Southern Crossing or make a donation, go to www.southerncrossingmd.org.

Twitter: @JClink_MdINDY