WalkArlington organizes people near the Clarendon Metro Station. Photo by Neal Franklin

For years, Barry Oliver worked as a courier, relying on his moped to get to and from deliveries. But one day, his moped was stolen. Without a motor vehicle, Oliver was forced to use a bike. His deliveries began to take longer. And eventually he lost his job. Oliver lost his home and spent years of his life outside. He developed medical issues in his back and began to lose his mobility.

PathForward, a nonprofit that serves people experiencing homelessness in Arlington, stepped in. After meeting with a nurse practitioner on staff, Oliver received cortisone shots for the herniated disc in his back, which decreased his pain while increasing his mobility, and began walking with crutches. He scheduled appointments for surgery and began looking for housing resources.

Danielle Wilson, the associate director for communications at PathForward, said that Oliver’s story stood out to her.

“It all started with trust,” Wilson said. “Through trust and through providing a solution to a very real need, we were able to help him.”

There are approximately 182 people living without homes in Arlington, according to the county’s most recent point-in-time count, which is an annual survey that counts the number of people living without homes in Arlington. According to the count, homelessness has decreased by about 60% since 2013, but rose slightly in 2022.

As of fiscal year 2021, PathForward helped move 429 people into homes since its founding. The organization is fighting homelessness in Arlington by supporting people in their search for housing.

The organization started in the 1980s when one of the organization’s founders, Lora Rinker, began handing out meals to people in need.

“Eventually, she started to partner with local churches to provide housing for those experiencing homelessness,” Wilson said. “Each night a different church would volunteer to host … The community really banded together to see how they could help be a solution.”

PathForward, originally known as the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, expanded to include an emergency winter shelter in 1992. The organization then added services like street outreach, a day program, permanent supportive housing resources and a year-round shelter. The center opened a medical respite center and nursing services in 2015 where people like Oliver have received care.

PathForward operates a commercial kitchen that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chef Glenn Johnsen prepares meals ranging from cereal in the morning to beef stew in the evening.

During the warmer months, the kitchen serves around 45 to 50 meals. However, during hypothermia season, a period from November to March when people experiencing homelessness are at risk due to the cold weather, that number tends to increase to around 60 to 65 meals, Johnsen said.

PathForward works with different organizations to ensure that programs like their Community Medical Mobile Unit, which responds to people’s medical and behavioral health needs outside of the center, are serving a need that is not already being provided by other organizations.

PathForward collaborates with organizations like the Virginia Health Center to secure resources like hospital beds for PathForward’s medical respite program.

PathForward and New Hope Housing, a nonprofit based in Northern Virginia, also offer services to adults, while other Arlington-based organizations like Doorways and Bridges to Independence provide resources predominantly for families and children.

Arlington county residents and companies contribute to PathForward’s mission through volunteer work and donations, Wilson said.

“One person can have a drop in the bucket,” Wilson said. “But if you have 50,000 people putting their drop in a bucket, you have a wave.”

The pandemic caused PathForward to adapt many of their services. Scott Miller, a community engagement and events specialist at PathForward, said the nonprofit housed people in two motels for five weeks during the winter of 2021.

“We were still in operation 24/7,” Miller said. “We were mobilized outside of the center, because we just realized we had to just get people out, separated and isolated.”

Services returned to the center, but the shelter remains unavailable for company events and many volunteer opportunities.

PathForward is able to host some events that adapt to COVID-19 safety concerns. Miller participated in a walking event on Sept. 17 hosted by WalkArlington, an Arlington County organization that encourages sustainable transport.

During the walk, Miller mentioned Oliver’s story and referenced services like the onsite nursing care and shelter that PathForward provides.

“I’m hoping people take away that PathForward is so much more than just a shelter,” Miller said.

Miller brought the walkers in front of the PathForward center and handed out Arlington County Street Guides, which lists resources in Arlington Country, for attendees to hand out to people experiencing homelessness in Arlington.

Many of the people that attended the walk were already familiar with PathForward’s work. Joe Keyees, an Arlington resident who had volunteered with PathForward in the past, went to the event to learn about the organization’s recent efforts to fight homelessness.

“It seems like a real shame that people in our community have to beg for help. So I like to support programs that make that less necessary,” said Keyees.

Mary Dallao, the program director for WalkArlington, said that the organization often does walks with a speaker to boost interest in their events. In deciding what organizations to work with, Dallao said PathForward “an organization that is really a pillar of the community.”

Oliver, whose experience with the nurse practitioners and housing resources at PathForward inspired both Wilson and Miller, agreed with Dallao’s sentiment.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Oliver. “PathForward absolutely saved my life.”