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Arlington nonprofit helps local man who had experienced homelessness for years find a home

Local nonprofit PathForward has helped an Arlington man who has experienced homelessness for more than 15 years finally find a place to call his own.

Earlier this month, the organization tweeted that it was able to find a new home for Barry Oliver, who was often seen in the Ballston, Virginia Square and Clarendon neighborhoods. He moved into a subsidized apartment in Arlington the prior week.

“It probably was the happiest and most rewarding [experience] I’ve had in a long time,” PathForward Senior Director of Medical Services Kasia Shaw tells ARLnow.

She had helped Oliver with his medical needs as well as finding a home. “To be part of that transformation and change Mr. Oliver’s life was just so great.”

Oliver had experienced homelessness for nearly 17 years due to a myriad of medical, health and professional challenges, including back problems, job loss and having his only mode of transportation — his moped — stolen several times.

In a video produced by PathForward last month, Oliver describes how a feeling of hopelessness can be pervasive after such a long period of time.

“After that length of time, you no longer think that something is going to happen,” he says. “Because nothing has happened in 17 years to change your situation…I figured I would be homeless forever… PathForward has absolutely saved my life. Absolutely.”

In December 2019, he walked into PathForward’s facilities (then called A-SPAN) on 14th St N. in Courthouse in obvious pain and had trouble walking. After a number of examinations, it was discovered that he had several herniated discs that would end up requiring two surgeries.

When Shaw first met him, it was clear that Oliver needed help. But he was reluctant to accept it, which isn’t unusual for those who experience homelessness.

“If all of a sudden you lose your housing for whatever reason, it’s a very traumatic experience. And so when people try to help you, you might be weary like, ‘Do I really trust you?,'” says Shaw. “Trust is a big, big component of it.”

After his second surgery in January 2022, Shaw and his case manager Gabrielle Goodson worked to find housing for him that met his needs.

It can be difficult and “time consuming,” says Shaw, to find an appropriate place to live for someone who has experienced homelessness for a long period of time.

Sometimes, they are missing needed paperwork and identification. Apartments usually require a source of income to sign a lease, which is a challenge for some. There are also accessibility and health considerations.

While there are buildings that the organization regularly works with and even owns, Oliver ended up in an Arlington building that the organization hadn’t worked with before.

A week later, Shaw says that Oliver is getting set up nicely in his new home, with donated furniture along with household items that he’s bought himself.

This past July, Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN) rebranded as PathForward with a continuing philosophy that housing is a path forward for folks. Funding mainly comes from grants, contributions, and contracted services with the county.

The organization says that they find housing for 25 to 30 people a year, but there’s a real concern the need will continue to go up in Arlington, says Shaw.

With new developments and luxury apartments consistently being built in the county, longtime residents are being priced out of housing.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” says Shaw. “What we’re finding is a lot of elderly homeless who have a lot of medical needs.”

PathForward was able to find housing for Oliver. Shaw gets a bit emotional thinking about something he said to her recently.

“He said… ‘You are the only health care professional that I trust,'” says Shaw. “That’s huge and really means a lot. It reaffirms why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

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