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Safe housing is scarce as advocates work to help the homeless

Posted at 4:58 PM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-23 10:21:45-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Earlier this year, campers set up 23 tents around the Richmond Coliseum for temporary shelter. Now, seven tents remain as the city prepares to tear down the massive, rundown downtown building.

“They’re putting a fence up and asking them to leave,” Traci Byrd-Eagles, a board member of Blessing Warriors RVA, said.

The non-profit has worked to find rooms or other locations for the homeless population to stay as crews begin to demolish the site.

She described her volunteering as a 24/7 job.

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“The alternative is to find somewhere else safe,” Byrd-Eagles said. “They could put this fence and circle this building all they want but the circle and cycle of homelessness continues.”

The city posted notices on the tents last month notifying campers of the impending demolition. The city also provided the number for the homeless services crisis line.

Dianne Wilmore, Richmond’s Homeless Services Liaison, said they have been working since April to move the homeless to safer places, like hotels, and connecting those who want help with other services.

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Wilmore said not every individual living on the street wanted help, but added they don’t turn anyone away.

Approximately a third of her budget, she said, was spent on individuals who recently migrated to Richmond and have no local friends nor family.

Her team, along with community partners, encourages the homeless to seek out family members for a place to stay and helps those with an income better manage their finances.

Wilmore said the goal wasn’t to arrest anyone who remained at the Coliseum when construction began, but to help individuals find a safe place to stay.

On the city’s Southside, CARITAS’ new shelter houses dozens of women who have no other place to go.

CEO and President Karen Stanley began the twice-annual national Point in Time Count across Central Virginia on Thursday.

The count is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requirement to determine how many homeless individuals live in our neighborhoods.

“This morning was the largest group I ever had,” Stanley, who surveyed homeless camps in South Chesterfield, said.

Typically her team would encounter about seven or eight individuals. On Thursday, they counted 12 people living in tents.

“We had a married couple that we hadn’t had before and people who admitted they had mental health issues,” Stanley explained.

Another woman who had been homeless for seven years denied their offer for help.

CARITAS doesn’t just provide three hot meals and a cot to their clients. Now their mission is to rehabilitate these individuals into productive members of society through job training, mental health support, and drug and alcohol addiction programs.

The non-profit will soon issue Emergency Housing Vouchers to clients from funding through HUD. The task is now a full-time job for their Housing Coordinator Megan Corbitt, which was established using federal funding from the CARES Act.

“With the pandemic moving folks into housing specifically has been pushed back. So there’s not a lot of turnover time,” Corbitt explained.

A lack of available and affordable apartments or rooms hinders her work. She’s also tasked with collecting the individual’s birth certificate, social security card, and help catch them up on unpaid rent or utilities.

Corbitt can spend a majority of an average workday helping just one person get into safe housing.

“They are a neighbor you don’t know where they came from. They could be a veteran, they could’ve been a mom going through a domestic violence situation, or someone who lost their job due to the pandemic. Everyone at home that could happen, too,” she said.

Meanwhile, Blessing Warriors RVA pushed city officials to establish a year-round shelter for the homeless population.

Wilmore said they are currently identifying ways to improve services to the homeless while the city’s inclement weather facility will open by mid-October.

The official results of the Point in Time Count will be revealed in August.

If you or someone is three days or less away from experiencing homelessness, call the Homeless Connection Line at 804-972-0813. This phone line facilitates access to resources and shelter alternatives.