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When Richmond closed homeless shelters, where did families go? Housing director's update on 'difficult work'

Hampton: 'I cannot make the determination to say whether we open a shelter back up or not'
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Posted at 7:08 PM, May 11, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- The leader of Richmond's housing department said the city is still working to find housing options for some families and children who had nowhere else to go when the city closed its inclement weather shelters last month.

On Thursday, Sherrill Hampton, Director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, gave an update to the Richmond Council's Education and Human Services Committee on the city's efforts to provide services after the closure of the weather shelters on April 15. The committee consists of Councilors Stephanie Lynch, Cynthia Newbille, and Andreas Addison.

The city appropriated about $4.5 million for four community partners, including RVA Sister's Keeper, United Nations Church, and Commonwealth Catholic Charities, to operate weather shelters between November and April. However, the fourth partner never opened a shelter.

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Councilmembers said part of that funding was specifically meant for partners to provide case management for unhoused residents so that they were connected to housing solutions, such as year-round shelter or permanent housing, once the seasonal shelters closed. However, some councilors have questioned whether those services were properly provided.

Hampton told the committee that one of its partners, RVA Sister's Keeper which worked with mothers and children, was able to find year-round shelter for four families beyond the April 15 deadline.

She said the organization worked with an additional four families to try and finding a housing solution but was unable to connect them to a resource due to various reasons.

Richmond Department of Housing and Community Development Director Sherill Hampton
Richmond Department of Housing and Community Development Director Sherill Hampton

Hampton said other than Commonwealth Catholic Charities, partners were not trained to input peoples' information into the database that would connect them to a regional year-round shelter, which is the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), until January.

"Until they had training, they could not and did not enter folks into HMIS. The only vendor that could was Commonwealth Catholic Charities," Hampton said. "Any individual who stayed at the [inclement weather shelter] while it was temporary, and that was from November to really half of January until our vendors got their full contracts and everything else and got training... could not put people in HMIS, but that does not mean that they were not providing case management."

She said it's still under review whether all residents' information has now been entered into the database, which is managed by the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care and Homeward.

"We thank all of our city inclement weather shelters and year-round shelter providers, as well as our other community partners involved in these matters for their work," Hampton said. “To be out every day on the front line, to hear some of the stories, to meet and talk with some of these people is difficult work."

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But Councilwoman and committee chair Stephanie Lynch said she was aware of at least 28 families and 62 children, some of which utilized the RVA's Sister Keeper shelter, who had not received placement from the city or regional partners. Hampton said she just learned about the list of families Thursday morning and has not yet verified it.

"The family with the five kids is sleeping in a broken-down van. They haven't showered. They haven't eaten. They don't have food stamps. They are five RPS students," Lynch said. "All they want, one of the children said, for Mother's Day is to get them out of a van. Is that the city that we're living in?"

Lynch said her "emboldened plea" for the administration is: "What can we do to offer support to these families whilst ensuring that they get into the GRCOC system, because we know that right now no one has capacity?"

Councilor Cynthia Newbille expressed a similar sentiment.

“First, I want to make sure that they're sheltered, and then they’re serviced and get on a path to housing," Newbille said.

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Lynch added that the council approved the millions in funding for shelter partners thinking they would provide services to help mitigate the number of families left out on the street once the shelters closed.

“That is not what we appropriated this funding for. We hoped, I think it was all of the express wishes of council, to ensure that there is at least some sheltering capacity for our children and families after this arbitrary April 15 deadline," Lynch said.

Earlier this week, Lynch and several advocates demanded that the city reopen its shelters after a homeless woman died on the streets, just a block away from a shuttered shelter site.

But Hampton said that decision would have to be made from someone higher up in the administration.

"I cannot make the determination to say whether we open a shelter back up or not," Hampton said.

Hampton said a comprehensive review of the funds spent and services provided by the weather shelters this past season will be available in June.

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