More people homeless, staying longer in shelter beds; "Stability is all I really ask"

Posted at 12:25 AM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-23 12:10:57-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As homelessness increased across the state, experts said the amount of time homeless people were spending in emergency shelter beds in the Greater Richmond region had nearly doubled.

A Homeward January 2021 Point in Time Count showed that the number of people experiencing homelessness in the Richmond region increased by 53 percent, from 546 people in January 2020 to 838 people in January 2021.

On top of that, Homeward data showed emergency shelter bed nights across the Richmond region, had increased from an average of 18 days (from March 2019 to March 2020), to 31 days (from March 2020 to March 2021).

Paris Padgett, a Richmond mother of three, said she had been living without a permanent home since August when she lost her apartment to an electrical fire.

"A week in one hotel, a week in another. We've just been jumping around from hotel to hotel," said Padgett.

The single mom said she was assisted by the Red Cross initially, then social services helped -- but after bouncing from hotels to friends' homes, she eventually had to move up to Pennsylvania in December to find shelter with family, while two of her children continue virtually learning in Richmond Public Schools.

The entire time, Padgett said she'd been looking for an affordable home, to no avail.

"Most places I call, they don't have any availability at all," said Padgett. "It's been a lot, and due to people not wanting to take my unemployment as income most people want check stubs that makes it even harder for me to find something on my own because I work for myself. So, check stubs is not an option for me. It's not something that I have at the moment."

Padgett said she was now being assisted by Housing Families First, First Bringing Families Home program, in partnership with Richmond Public Schools, and said she was hopeful she would find a home soon.

But Padgett's experience isn't an isolated one.

"I don't think, at least in my experience, we've seen a housing market like this, where there's just such, so few vacant units," said Beth Vann-Turnbull, Executive Director of Housing Families First, the largest family shelter in Greater Richmond

Vann-Turnbull said with the eviction moratoria in place for nearly a year, people who were fortunate enough to be in housing could maintain it.

"And we want that," said Vann-Turnbull.

However, she said for people who were already experiencing homelessness, it's caused a domino effect.

"Affordable housing is always an issue. But now there's so few units in that rage, it means that it takes longer to find a unit to help match a family with that --and we can pay the moving costs to help them get in -- but everything takes a little longer now. And that means if people have to stay in shelter longer before they can move into their own place, it means there's somebody else who isn't getting into shelters quickly," said Vann-Turnbull. "It creates a sort of a whole backup to the system."

Vann-Turnbull added that because landlords have very few vacancies, they can be extremely selective, so families are staying in shelters longer.

"Pre-pandemic, it was somewhere around 35 days," said Vann-Turnbull. "Now it's closer to 60 days."

Faith Kallman, Director of Development for Homeward (the collaborative agency for all the homeless service programs in Richmond), said since the start of the pandemic, they'd been using Cares Act Funds to house people in hotels, since regular shelters had to decrease their census.

"The goal is never to just shelter people. The goal is to get them into the front door, get them out of homelessness into the front door of a shelter and get them out of the back door, which is into stable housing," said Kallman. "We all know that to end homelessness, it's about affordable housing, it's about having access to that. It's about having, you know, permanent supportive housing."

But for people like Padgett, the pathway to that goal wasn't so straightforward.

"Stability is all I really ask and pray for and I'm just like, why is that so hard to come by right now?"

In its 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported a 3% rise in the number of people experiencing homelessness in Virginia on a single night from 2019.

On Tuesday, it was announced that Greater Richmond Continuum of Care (GRCoC) agencies were awarded a total of $805,729 in grants from the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. These grants are part of over $6 million awarded by Northam to assist 38 permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing, and innovative pilot projects throughout the Commonwealth.

Grants benefiting the Richmond region will support a variety of programs, including those targeting both young people and older adults experiencing homelessness. Additional resources will support the needs of LGTBQ+ and pregnant individuals.

These grants will be crucial to help Homeward and GRCoC partner agencies further our shared mission to end homelessness.