Local organization provides hotel rooms, aid as first step towards alleviating homelessness

Community

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond, Henrico County and Chesterfield County are collaborating with the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care to aid those at imminent risk of experiencing homelessness — with some hotels being used to provide shelter in the area to those in need.

8News reported that a surge in homelessness is possible with stalled stimulus talks and eminent evictions for those who have been without jobs and are struggling to pay their rent — with 426 people needing shelter in the last 30 days.

For the last six months, the Richmond Urban Ministry Institute (RUMI) has been working alongside Homeward and other agencies within the GRCoC to help take care of those battling homelessness. They work to provide the next step for finding housing, food from local businesses, mental health services and even something as small as a conversation to the homeless inside the two Richmond hotel locations.

The hotels are ultimately compensated by federal stimulus funding for providing the shelter to the agencies in a strategy being used by hotels across the nation — also giving opportunities for staff to work since hotels are an industry that took a hit during the pandemic.

“The hotel and the staff, they’re building relationship with these people. When the clients come in, they’re in for at least 14 days. ‘I need towels. I need soap.’ All the different things that they need, they’re a part of the care coordination also,” Marvin Green from RUMI said. “They are really opening their doors. They’re benefiting, their employees get to keep jobs and get to keep their houses based on them doing this very supportive thing.”

RUMI has a goal of working with each person experiencing homelessness individually to help get to the bottom of the direct mental and shelter needs they have.

“They are human just like us. Everybody had a bump, and we are here to help you heal from that bump,” Green said. “There are a lot of different things that go with it. Eat. Have a conversation. Can you imagine someone who has not had no social interaction in so long but have a staff person come by your room, give you a meal, and you can talk to them?”

The program works with hotels to prioritize shelter for those at greatest risk during the pandemic. Homeless families with young children, older adults, and those with underlying health conditions are top priority.

“Shelter isn’t housing — it is a step-stone. And our shelters are saving lives this year more than ever before and they deserve our support,” King Horne said. “Shelter alone won’t end homelessness and it takes all of us coming together to help address this crisis during the pandemic. They need to get into services to get out of services. You need to have a front door that is really robust, and you need to have a pathway out of homelessness.”

Inside of the GRCoC are 14 agencies that provide services to unsheltered individuals and families that each have a specific role in the fight to end homelessness.

“It has become even clearer that no single agency can solve this crisis,” Executive Director of Homeward, Kelly King Horne, said.

And as the weather begins to get colder during fall and winter months, the demand for shelter will likely continue to rise. King Horne says this highlights the importance of the GRCoC initiative.

The collaborative effort between multiple agencies is to increase resources to help people on the frontline of the homelessness crisis — including the amount of staff for services like the Homeless Crisis Line. This hotline offers problem-solving methods, connections that help combat homelessness, and providing answers to questions that those that are experiencing homelessness may have.

Mayor Levar Stoney said last week that there were 45 families sheltered in hotels, and the city has been able to fund the housing of 790 individuals in private hotel rooms.

Other services within the collaboration include workforce and re-entry providers, substance abuse services, local government aid, and healthcare services.

“From the start of the pandemic, we knew that people experiencing homelessness were at greater risk for COVID. Both getting it and having worse outcomes,” King Horne said. “We mobilized to set up a non-congregate shelter by using hotels so that there was safe indoor accommodation available as quickly as possible.”

Ultimately, King Horne says the services should be used as a means to the next step in ending an individual’s homeless status.

Volunteer opportunities exist for those interested to assist local homeless shelters and services: Homeward.org and RVAStrong.org.

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