Homeless | Richmond Free Press

Plans for a year-round shelter for the homeless 24 hours a day have suddenly evaporated seven months after being announced.

Commonwealth Catholic Charities, which won city support to add a 75-bed weatherproof operation for use as a housing resource center at 809 Oliver Hill Way, dropped plans to develop the expanded space.

CCC’s Director of Marketing, Katie Dillon, confirmed Tuesday in response to a question from the Free Press that the plan to provide housing for unsheltered people during the high heat of Richmond’s summers, freezing winter cold and storms has been dropped.

“Last week, we advised city staff that CCC cannot proceed with the development of the weather shelter at our Oliver Hill Way location,” Ms Dillon explained in an email.

“The project simply faced too many challenges, which resulted in significant and protracted delays,” she continued. “Despite our best efforts, considerable staff time and financial resources, the setbacks made it impossible to complete the project in time for the winter.”

Ms. Dillon said CCC has released the remaining portion of the $1.76 million in federal funds that Mayor Levar M. Stoney and City Council have set aside for the project, while adding that CCC remains “deeply committed to helping people who are homeless and grateful for our ongoing partnership with the city and the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care,” an umbrella planning group for homeless-serving organizations.

Mayor Stoney and administration officials, including Reginald E. Gordon, who oversees social services operations, did not publicly announce the CCC’s decision and did not respond to Free Press inquiries.

In discussions with the board over the past several months, the Stoney administration has not indicated that there are back-up plans in place should this development fail.

In October, 5th District Councilwoman Stephanie A. Lynch enthusiastically welcomed the CCC’s plan, calling it the end of a “long uphill battle.”

Ms Lynch, who chairs the council’s education and social services committee and has been a leader in promoting shelter all year, called it “disappointing and frustrating” that the shelter promised by the CCC does not materialize.

Still, she said she and the other council members weren’t completely surprised that the shelter agreement with the city fell apart as the Oct. 1 deadline to provide winter shelter began to run out. profile.

There was skepticism about the ability of CCC and the city to get this project “up and running in such a short time, knowing that we don’t own the space and it doesn’t s is not a public good. If so, it could have been done.

Ms Lynch pushed Richmond to emulate Virginia Beach by offering a one-stop shop that could provide information, advice and other services as well as shelter, a big step up from the current Richmond operation which only provides night shelter during the winter to prevent homeless people from freezing to death.

The creation of a year-round, 24/7 shelter is one of the elements of the city’s homeless strategic plan that the administration developed with Homeward, the umbrella agency for nonprofit shelter organizations, which the board approved more than two years ago.

The council also passed a Lynch-sponsored resolution in 2020 that urged the administration to develop a year-round operation as a safety net for people who could be evicted, lose their jobs or face other challenges. which would cost them their residence.

CCC has been operating the town’s winter shelter for a few years. A council policy requires the city to provide overflow space when the temperature, as well as the wind chill, is expected to be 40 degrees or less, to ensure a safe place when other private shelter beds are full.

Last winter, the shelter was housed at the Quality Inn on Arthur Ashe Boulevard. This was meant to be temporary after CCC agreed to dramatically increase the services and shelter it could provide at its Oliver Hill Way location – although 75 beds would have been well below requirements. On a given winter night, 110 to 150 people slept in the Quality Inn conference room.

With CCC out of sight, Ms Lynch hopes ‘we can find a permanent solution so we don’t have to keep kicking the road.

“Our entry point and our homeless service system are only as strong as our provider partners,” she said. “We can and should support them by doing our fair share by helping to fund services and providing space for them to operate.”

According to her, a year-round service space with shelter is more necessary than ever. “We are facing a perfect storm of conditions which could ultimately lead to a significant increase in the number of individuals and families on the streets.

This includes the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, soaring food and fuel price inflation, rising housing costs, and the prospect of increased evictions for people who can no longer qualify. rent relief from the government, she said.

Those challenges could eventually be reflected in a new wave of homelessness, she said.

Ms. Lynch noted that the homeless count conducted every six months in this area shows an increase in the number of individuals and families on the streets.

“In the context of record state and local budget surpluses,” she said, “this increase is an indicator that we live in moral and social hypocrisy. We cannot absolve ourselves or deflect the head of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in our own backyard.

Christy J. Olson