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Hampton Roads’ housing hotline sees record number of calls for help, but resources are limited

Ryan Murphy at WHRO reports on the housing crisis in Hampton Roads.

Listen to Ryan Murphy's report here.

One window in the office of the region’s Housing Crisis Hotline is covered in paper stars.

Each star has something written on it.

One says “worried dad.” Another, “veteran woman.” “Made caller laugh” is scrawled on a third.

Shirley Brackett, the director of the hotline, says it’s where her staff write their “wins.”

It’s a reference to the parable of the starfish washed up on the beach - a story about a person can’t save them all, but can make a difference to the ones they do throw back into the ocean.

Hampton Roads’ Housing Crisis Hotline has helped connect people in the region to resources for more than a decade.

Last month, the hotline fielded more calls than ever before - nearly 7,100.

But there aren’t 7,100 stars on the window. There are around two dozen.

That’s because while the calls seeking help are growing, the help that’s actually available is limited - and getting scarcer.

Brackett says the uptick in calls is partly because many pandemic-era housing aid programs have either recently ended - like the state’s pandemic rent relief program - or reverted to pre-pandemic eligibility rules.

“So now we're back to having very limited resources. And by very limited, I mean less than 100 people a month getting served through our community partners for rent out of those 7,000 phone calls,” Brackett.

The hotline itself doesn’t provide housing assistance. It keeps inventories of program waiting lists and resources to connect people to them.

And it’s not just the homeless or low-income families calling for help. Lately? Or always?

Brackett recalls one recent caller who makes more than $3,000 a month and still can’t find a place to rent.