RICHMOND, Va (WRIC) — After allegations of poor living conditions at a southside homeless shelter, including mold, unanswered service requests and security concerns, Mayor Levar Stoney’s office announced they will launch an investigation.
Several people experiencing homelessness told 8News exclusively that outstanding requests for help at the Days Inn hotel at 6910 Midlothian Turnpike made them concerned for their safety. The homeless shelter program, which offers temporary living space, is run by the local non-profit, Commonwealth Catholic Charities.
A spokesperson for the mayor said they would investigate the allegations on Wednesday, just hours after City Councilman Mike Jones called on the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Lincoln Saunders, to launch a probe.
“Quite frankly, it is unimaginable for anyone, regardless of life circumstances to live under such conditions,” Jones said in his letter to Saunders.
Mildred Barnes, a mother of two, said the black mold spreading inside her room possibly threatened her teen daughter’s health who has asthma.
“When she [Barnes’ daughter] goes back and see this pulmonary doctor, I don’t know what’s happening with her lungs. Her lungs could be messed up,” she said.
Barnes is one of 200 people without a home living at the hotel, a program coordinator with CCC acknowledged last week.
The reported lack of maintenance is frustrating others in the program, like Harley James Brooks.,
“They [CCC] give us enough change to wash and dry one load of clothes here a week, but the dryer doesn’t work,” he said.
Donna Sisson, who has spent at least one previous stint at the hotel, said during one recent night, “somebody came up to my door and pounded on it so damn hard, I thought they was gonna break it down.“
Sisson added that an entrance and exit door near her room was broken down several months ago, giving easy access to her door, which she said was “broke for two and a half months.”
The Days Inn is the same hotel where a homeless mother of three told 8News her belongings were thrown out after an emergency cesarean section at the hospital. The mother claimed CCC did not contact her in advance, and the non-profit confirmed they “disposed of” her belongings.
Homeless occupants have been living at the hotel for nearly two years, according to Kelly King Horne, executive director of Homeward, a local homeless services organization.
CCC said people are accommodated here for 60 days, and they must reapply for the housing there in order to stay or receive shelter elsewhere.
Prior to CCC taking over shelter operations at the hotel, Homeward launched a shelter of their own in early 2020 as a “Pandemic Response Shelter,” according to Horne.
“This shelter has been instrumental in serving our most vulnerable neighbors during the pandemic,” Horne said, adding Homeward managed the shelter until this past July.
While it’s unknown if unanswered service repairs occurred prior to CCC’s involvement, hotel owner Rajesh Lakhani said he was made aware of the concerns Tuesday, and a cleaning crew has been contracted to mitigate service repair requests.
Lakhani said he believes the agreement with CCC is in effect until March of 2022, however, “they can walk away any time, but we are not in a full-time agreement.”
Two employees for the Days Inn said Wednesday that some people refuse staff to enter rooms for maintenance, preventing them from responding, something Lakhani echoed. However, neither the hotel employees or Lakhani responded to the general concern from people living there about the outstanding service requests.
Despite the mounting allegations, a representative for CCC disputed ever hearing about the reported issues.
“It is our goal to always ensure client safety and well-being – these issues have not been reported to us, but we will ensure they are investigated by the property owner. We encourage shelter guests to share concerns with us through our grievance procedures so that we can respond promptly,” Marketing Manager Katie Dillon said Tuesday.
A Freedom of Information Act request submitted to Richmond’s codes enforcement office remains unanswered.