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As Richmond's unsheltered population hits a 15-year high, people and groups work to help those in need

Posted at 7:24 AM, Mar 24, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Daily Planet Health services on West Grace Street in Richmond focuses largely on wraparound medical services for unsheltered individuals and low-income families in the Richmond region. However, they do deliver the clinic straight to those who can’t make it to the physical location in the city.

"For folks who have been burned by the system and don't feel comfortable being in a clinic setting, this is the first step to trying to get them in to see a specialist or see more intensive care,” Diana Martinez, who serves as an outreach coordinator, said.

Molly Seay, a nurse practitioner with the Daily Planet, often rides in the mobile clinic to encampments or other areas where unsheltered individuals gather.

“People who are experiencing homelessness, a lot of times aren't thinking big picture like the longer, longer term,” Seay said. “I care about whether or not they're going to develop cervical cancer. I care about five to 10 years from now.”

Richmond non-profit Homeward conducts the region's Point in Time (PIT) count. PIT is a federally mandated count of the number of individuals living in shelters or living outside.

The most recent count discovered the largest number of people staying outdoors, in cars, or tents in at least the past 15 years.

“Although the total number of people experiencing homelessness in our region remained essentially flat compared to January 2022, the Winter 2023 PIT count did record a significant increase in the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. The number of people who were staying in unsheltered conditions increased by 121 percent from 85 people in January 2022 to 188 people in January 2023,” a Homeward spokesperson said in a press release.

Daily Planet said it experienced and witnessed the increase firsthand.

“In our day-to-day, we do see an increase of folks. I think it's just representative of what's happening outside with our housing. Housing is more expensive. There's less housing stock available. There's less shelter available,” Martinez said.

She said, largely, most of the pandemic resources are now gone.

“There's kind of this gridlock in housing. What are we going to do to address their health care while they're still unsheltered and while they're still unstably housed? That's why we go to them,” Seay said.

Homeward said a few critical challenges remain in our region while more funding for homeless services is important. They include few opportunities to rent and a lack of deeply affordable housing in our region.

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