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Future of Richmond homeless camp in doubt

Posted at 9:26 AM, Mar 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-12 09:26:21-04

RICHMOND, Va. — A Richmond homeless encampment operating since late last year has a tentative shutdown date.

The encampment, known as “Camp Cathy” next to the city’s cold weather overflow shelter at 1400 Oliver Hill Way, has at times held over 100 people in a collection of tents, while others stayed in their cars in the parking lot.

The number of camp residents has been shrinking, with estimates between 60 to 75, since a task force, comprised of city officials, non-profits, and Virginia Commonwealth University, which owns the land, has been working to find permanent housing for them.

The task force is led by Kelly King Horne. She is the executive director of the non-profit Homeward. Homeward is “the planning and coordinating organization for homeless services in the greater Richmond region."

Horne said the task force decided to work towards a timeline of shutting the camp down on March 30, with a grace period of April 15 to, "ensure that we can connect as many people as possible to services.”

April 15 is when the building next the the camp, the Annie Giles Community Resource Center, will stopped being used for the year as a cold weather overflow shelter.

Currently on Wednesdays, it is also being used to facilitate meetings between the residents and city and non-profit agencies.

Horne said the task force is meeting this Friday and hopes to collaboratively determine their targets for closing the camp.

She added they also need to discuss what would happen after April 15 if that date is agreed upon.

Among those concerned about the potential end of the camp and what will happen to its residents is the camp's co-founder Rhonda Sneed.

She runs the camp through her nonprofit, Blessing Warriors RVA.

“Everyone’s worried here, but I don’t know what to tell them. They don’t know where to go,” said Sneed.

Sneed said a typed letter was posted on the door of the Annie Giles Center that referenced the March 30 closing of the camp. She said it referred to her in the third person in the body of the letter, but then appeared to be signed by her at the bottom.

She said she did not write the letter and has since resigned from her position on the task force in disagreement with the approach it is taking to the camp’s future.

Sneed said she is now just focused on taking care of those living at the camp.

“My thing is just to make sure these guys survive,” said Sneed.

On Wednesday morning, Dr. Arlene Simmons, who said she is a Camp Cathy liaison and task force member, held a news conference to address the rumors of the camp closing down on the April 15.

“If we don’t have everyone out of here by that date, no one is coming in here and bulldozing and start knocking down tents,” said Simmons.

She added the camp would remain up until each resident at the camp had been helped. Simmons said that while the agencies helping out the residents have been beneficial when it comes to “boots on the ground”, what is needed now is funding to help with the costs associated with getting the residents into permanent housing.

“Some people may have back bills and so they have to pay that and then they’re hit with a deposit, of course.”

City officials said their workers at the site are focused on a “real and intentional push” to learn the details of everyone still at the camp so that they will be able to help each one by that March 30/April 15 working deadline.

As for funding, at the next city council meeting the administration will be asking council to approve moving $2.1 million in FY2020 budget surplus to address the issue of homelessness, not just at Camp Cathy, but citywide.

“I guess we’ll wait until March 30 and see what happens,” said Sneed.

CBS 6 also reached out to VCU for comment but have not heard back.