After months on waitlist, homeless Richmond mother fights for housing: 'I feel like I'm failing'

Stokes: 'I am really tired. I try not to cry, but it is so hard dealing with this. It’s crazy.'
Charisma Stokes
Posted at 8:36 PM, Jun 04, 2023

(EDIT 6/5/2023: This article was updated to include corrections and responses from Homeward's Executive Director Kelly King Horne.)

RICHMOND, Va -- For Charisma Stokes, it's the little things that she dreams of doing with her family one day.

"Everyone has a vision of how they want things to be. Get them up, get them ready for school when school's coming up. I'll be getting ready for work," Stokes said. "I want to be watching TV together, eating popcorn on the sofa."

Even the thought of making herself a personalized keychain for her keys brought a smile to her face.

"I cannot wait for that. I'm so excited just thinking about it," Stokes said.

But regular, daily tasks are out of reach. Stokes, her two children, and her disabled mother are homeless.

“I am really tired. I try not to cry, but it is so hard dealing with this. It’s crazy," she said.

Charisma Stokes, her two children, and her disabled mother are homeless.
Charisma Stokes, her two children, and her disabled mother are homeless.

Stokes said she came to Richmond in October 2022 after fleeing a domestic violence situation in Baltimore, Maryland. She stayed with a family member for a few months, but then that family member was evicted, leaving Stokes with nowhere to go.

Since March, Stokes said she's been bouncing from hotel to hotel.

“I would love a shelter, somewhere where we can be there until we do get something because it's hard paying for this room," Stokes said. "Even if we pay for three days, I can never be at ease. I can never be at ease, because once that three days is up, what are we going to do then?"

Stokes said she has been consistently filling out applications for public housing, called the homeless connection line countless times, and contacted shelters directly.

“Regardless of where I call, they always direct me back to Homeward," she said.

Charisma Stokes
Charisma Stokes

Homeward is the agency that coordinates Central Virginia's homeless service providers, which is known as the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care (GRCOC). Homeward is one of four agencies that helps connect those in crisis to that network of support through the Homeless Connection Line.

However, Stokes said no providers have been able to help her yet, and she remains on a wait list.

“Where's your compassion? Like really, we've been homeless for so long now. Like, no shelters, no nothing?" Stokes said. "And I just feel guilty. I really try my hardest, but I feel so bad. I feel like I'm failing.”

In response to Stokes' comments, Homeward's Executive Director Kelly King Horne said that shelters and service providers do not direct people to Homeward, because Homeward is a planning agency and does not offer any direct services.

"This notion of being directed back to Homeward seems very off to me and is an unusual statement," Horne said.

Last week, Homeward published the GRCOC's annual report on Collaboration, Compassion, and Community Accountability.

The report showed that in 2022:

  • 6,800 people in Central Virginia sought homeless assistance
  • About 3,000 accessed services
  • 2,100 were served by emergency shelter programs

Data found that Black families and individuals were disproportionately impacted by the homelessness crisis.
62% of all callers to the Homeless Connection Line during January-March of this year were from the City of Richmond. 18% of callers were from Henrico, 9% were from Chesterfield, and 1% was from Hanover. The remaining 10% were from either elsewhere in Virginia or out of state.

The report stated that the causes of homelessness ranged from short-term financial challenges to mental health challenges.

Additionally, the report identified housing shortfalls in our region including low rental vacancies, a lack of deeply affordable housing, and a need for more year-round shelter beds.

Ultimately, the report found that while the homeless services provider network is significant, it is insufficient to meet the region's needs.

“And it hurts me that I know that it's other families actually going through what we're going through," Stokes said.

Stokes said the everyday struggles are endless including getting her son to medical appointments and getting her daughter to school.

Azyah and Charisma Stokes.
Azyah and Charisma Stokes.

Stokes' daughter Azyah, who is about to enter the second grade, said she would like to find a home so she could have more space to do homework.

"We need a home, and can you help us find a home? And we really need one, but we just need to help to find one," Azyah said. "I could like study, and it'll be more comfortable for me."

Stokes said her children are the reason she won't stop fighting for housing.

"I want them to be happy," she said. "It’s going to come one day.”

In response to this story, Horne provided the following statement to CBS 6:

"More broadly, a lot of this story seems to conflate the limited resources of our region’s homeless services system with causes of poverty and despair. There have been public claims of a large and growing population of unsheltered children in the City of Richmond. From what we have been able to gather from hours of conversations with partners who do this work as well as community advocates, however, the public reports seem to be reporting the plight of families trapped in poverty and inadequate housing situations. We know that these situations are desperate and deserving of attention and resources. We also know that these situations are categorically different from the more rare situations where families stay in cars or other places not meant for human habitation. The needs of people living in poverty and staying in hotels or in other suboptimal housing situations necessitates the deployment of different policies, funding, and partners. The underfunded and more limited homeless assistance system cannot solve the problems of poverty."

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