ROANOKE, Va. – As many think about what home for the holidays means to them this year, one local nonprofit is working to help those living on the streets.
Since the pandemic began, The Least of These Ministry has seen an increase in those facing homelessness.
Derrick Alford rides a bike to Botetourt from Roanoke to work, 9 miles each way.
He used to walk, but thanks to The Least of These Ministry he now has a bike to get there.
“I sleep on the sidewalk, set my phone for the alarm to come on to have enough ample time to make my destination, so I walk all the way from Roanoke, Virginia to another county, Botetourt,” Alford said.
It’s not uncommon to see The Least of These bus parked on the downtown market with its back doors wide open, helping the homeless.
“I think we are out in the community making a difference. It isn’t just about having statistics or numbers, it’s about relationships and the people we come in contact with,” said Dawn Sandoval, founder.
Dawn and her husband started the nonprofit to meet those who are homeless where they are, parking the bus in easy to find places.
“So many people are facing homelessness based on a set of circumstances and all they need is a hand up. We just want to do whatever it takes to offer them that,” said Sandoval.
The Least of These has helped find permanent housing for about 200 people in the last three years, and that number continues to rise as the pandemic takes its toll.
Alford is just one person the nonprofit recently placed in permanent housing. For years he’s been employed, but lived outside.
“I have always been in awe of him, because he has constantly worked and in the midst of homelessness, getting up off of a sidewalk to go to work for a 10-hour day, I don’t know a lot of people that can do that,” said Sandoval.
Alford says having stable housing has given him rest for his weary soul.
“I’m energized. I get sleep. I don’t have to worry about somebody hurting me or anything outside now. I’m in my own place and I have a peace of mind,” said Alford.
As they face helping a 10% increase in homelessness due to COVID-19, it is success stories like Alford’s that keep them going.
“It’s my life, it’s so humbling that I get to be a part of stories like Derek’s,” said Sandoval.