RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — As temperatures drop ahead of winter, the push to open cold weather shelters in Richmond is underway. But the city won’t have a new seasonal shelter ready until at least mid-November, a reality that led a councilwoman to say Richmond is “failing.”

The current plan from the city calls for scattering four winter shelters around Richmond instead of having one location with 150 beds. Richmond hopes to open the first shelter, a 60-bed facility at 1900 Chamberlayne Parkway, by Nov. 15.

Under this timeline, the city wouldn’t meet its deadline to open a seasonal inclement weather shelter from Nov. 1 to April. The City Council needs to authorize the use of federal funding for the effort, which would then require time for the public to weigh in.

“I don’t believe even with an approval on November 7th that we would likely start up. We’re hoping, anticipating it would be around November 15th or so,” Sherrill Hampton, the director of the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development, told the council’s Education and Human Services Standing Committee on Oct. 13.

Map of proposed inclement weather shelters in Richmond for 2023. (map courtesy of the city of Richmond)

Hampton presented the city’s recommendations to the committee, sharing a plan to have a 60-bed shelter operated by the nonprofit group Commonwealth Catholic Charities (CCC) and then open three other facilities with 30 beds each at a later date.

Stephanie Lynch, a Richmond councilor representing the city’s 5th District, shared concerns over the impact a delay in opening a seasonal shelter would have on people without homes during cold weather.

“I don’t know about you all but sleeping in the cold, particularly when it’s rainy, is not where we want our families to be,” Lynch said during the Oct. 13 meeting. “We have 1,600 people on the eviction docket. Even if 100 of those families are on the street tomorrow or on the street this week, we don’t have a place to send them.”

The city’s plan calls for opening shelters at Fifth Street Baptist Church, the United Nations Church and RVA Sister’s Keeper. Hampton told councilmembers that having four different shelters would ensure that one neighborhood would not be “bearing the brunt” of a 150-bed facility.

Hampton could not say when the city would be able to move forward with the other three shelters, explaining city staff was awaiting information from auditors.

Lynch was skeptical of whether the city could have the shelters operational and whether those involved would be trained and prepared to take on people in a matter of weeks. She gave a stark assessment of the city’s efforts.

“We’re failing,” Lynch said. “We’ve got to do better. Can we not expedite, I mean do we not have any general funds that we can…where do we send folks? Where can we send folks?”

The city works with the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care, which operates 12 locations that offer shelter year-round. Under a resolution passed by the City Council in 2020, Richmond has set certain parameters on when it can open inclement weather shelters any time of the year.

The city recommended awarding federal funding to the four shelter providers, with $966,121 going to CCC, $221,422 to Fifth Baptist Church and RVA Sister’s Keeper and United Nations Church receiving $71,422 each under the plan’s first phase.