by Jon Baliles
The inability of the City to open warm weather shelters for the homeless during the big freeze on Christmas weekend was enough to draw the ire of most of City Council and many others. The recent thawing of temperatures has made it less of a pressing issue, but the cold is coming back. Thankfully, however, it seems the City has now reached an agreement to open a third shelter with 60 more beds through Commonwealth Catholic Charities (CCC) and a fourth shelter should open next week, according to Tyler Layne at CBS6.
“Praise God,” said 5th District Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch, who for months has been the foremost voice at City Hall trying to get the shelters open. “I think that the stakeholders, community members, the city, and certainly city council have put a lot of work and a lot of time into standing up a continuum of shelters,” she said. “I feel like we have arrived at a much better place than where we were even several weeks ago.”
CCC has been bounced around like a yo-yo by the City since late summer and even raised $30,000 in private funds so they could open temporarily to help the homeless survive the Christmas deep freeze.
“The outpouring of financial support from individuals and community partners has been truly remarkable,” said Jay Brown, CEO of Commonwealth Catholic Charities. “Their generosity and compassion enabled us to open the shelter when freezing temperatures threatened lives.”
The shelter on Chamberlayne Avenue will remain open through April 14, and the contract with the City will provide 60 beds, meals, restroom facilities, case management, and other resources. The fourth shelter at 5th Street Baptist Church, also in Northside, should open next week.
A spokesperson for the City told Jeremy Wall at WRIC: “The City of Richmond is grateful for the partnership with Commonwealth Catholic Charities and their continued commitment to our unhoused residents. The contract that was signed allows the city to add another 60 beds to the 100 we currently provide. We count today as a good day because we have expanded the capacity to provide shelter for our residents.”
So we can be thankful this winter’s capacity is finally coming online after months of inexcusable delays. But we also need to make sure the ineptitude does not return next winter (yes, winter will come back next year). That’s why it is good to see that Lynch is still calling for an investigation into how the administration is managing its shelters and spending funds. She said she’d like to see all four shelters finalize contracts with the city, as RVA Sisters Keeper and United Nations Church have been operating shelters since November without a contract in place.
She’s looking for answers to her questions (among others) about how the money is used, and how it is allocated. If she is successful in getting these answers, they might prevent us from having this embarrassment reoccur next winter. She also wants to explore the possibility of a “year-round, 24/7 ‘code blue’ shelter that would be prepared to open at any time during any emergency.”
Curtis Surpless, a homeless man who survived the bitter cold and slept outside over Christmas, put it succinctly to Layne:
A one-stop 24/7 thing, they’ve got things like that in other cities. Why this city doesn’t? I don’t know. It still is a city with homeless people, so they should have a one-point stop.
Layne also noted: “Being a voice for the voiceless, Surpless said he’ll continue to advocate for more support for the homeless population and work to eliminate the stigma.”
Why is the stigma on the homeless left out in the cold and not on our “leaders?”
This column first appeared in RVA 5×5, published by former Richmond City Councilman Jon Baliles. It is republished here with permission.