With cold temperatures on the horizon, Richmond officials are still finalizing plans for the city’s shelter of last resort for people experiencing homelessness.
Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration has recommended relocating the city’s inclement weather shelter to Commonwealth Catholic Charities’ Housing Resource Center at 809 Oliver Hill Way. The Richmond City Council must approve the location and sign off on a $1.8 million request that the Stoney administration has submitted to renovate it.
Renovations of the roughly 12,000-square-foot facility could take a few months. When completed, it would accommodate 75 emergency beds — 75 fewer than the city has made available in past winters. The city-funded facility is meant to supplement the 350 beds available at other privately run shelters apart of the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care network of homeless service providers.
Stoney promised to find a permanent location for the shelter after moving it out of the city-owned Public Safety Building on North Ninth Street in 2018. The Annie Giles Center, formerly the Conrad Center, served as the shelter for two winters.
The city shuttered it as the pandemic began, as officials feared the close quarters posed a serious health risk to a population that is more vulnerable to transmission of the virus and more likely to have serious complications if they contract it.
Last winter, the shelter operated out of a hotel ballroom at the Quality Inn on Arthur Ashe Boulevard.
During renovations, CCC would operate the shelter out of a hotel ballroom on Arthur Ashe Boulevard, according to a report the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development shared with the council earlier this month outlining the administration’s recommendations. Meals, showers and case management will be available at both locations, the report states.
While its report identified the CCC location as the preferred location, the department also outlined three other options for the council to consider: a North Side hotel owned by Virginia Union University; a South Richmond shopping center; and the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center near The Diamond. Each would take at least five months to get up and running, while the Oliver Hill Way location would take one or two months, according to the report.
Historically, the cold weather overflow shelter opened on nights when inclement weather was forecast or temperatures were expected to dip below 40 degrees. As many as 150 adults could check in to the congregate space for the night. But conditions, as well as certain rules imposed on those who opted to stay there, deterred some from seeking the shelter even on the most frigid nights.
The criteria shifted last winter, as the pandemic wreaked havoc on the region and the coronavirus posed a dire threat to unsheltered people. The shelter operated nightly from November to April 15, providing refuge to 1,585 people. Of those, two out of three had their last housing in Richmond, Henrico or Chesterfield counties, according to the report.
The region recorded a historic spike in homelessness last January amid the pandemic. The number of people experiencing homelessness rose from 549 to 838, according to figures collected during a federally mandated census and provided by Homeward. A second count, conducted in July, saw the number fall from 838 to 699.
However, the number of unsheltered people — those sleeping in a place deemed unsuitable for human habitation — doubled from January to July, from 98 to 197 people.
The council’s next full meeting is scheduled for Monday.