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Richmond Nonprofit Operates ‘Camp’ For 120 Homeless Residents

Man stands in front of tents
"If you shut this tent city down, you want all these homeless folks going back to sleep on Broad Street? Where are they going to go?" said Kevin White, a resident of Cathy's Camp. (Photo: Yasmine Jumaa/VPM)

Tents line the vacant lot behind the Annie Giles Resource Center, Richmond’s overflow homeless shelter near Mosby Court and the city jail. With a shortage of shelter beds, the nonprofit Blessing Warriors RVA set-up the encampment, called Cathy’s Camp, as a community for over 120 homeless residents. People living there said they have nowhere else to go, and though the city is letting them stay, officials said they can’t stay there indefinitely. City officials and service providers visited the camp on Wednesday to find out what residents need. 

Kevin White lives at the camp. He said the city’s resources are ineffective. 

“Being a working person and seeing the resources that are not in place for us to progress in life, and the way the city treats you when you go to them for help,” White said. “It's hard and it makes you lose faith in the system here.”

According to the city’s most recent strategic plan to end homelessness, in 2019, about 500 single adults were living on the streets — but it also shows that the actual number of homeless people in Richmond may be closer to 1300 when factoring in children and families.

Advocates from different nonprofits in the area agreed that the official system is outdated — like the seasonal overflow shelter that’s only open when the temperature drops below 40 degrees. They also said shelters have limitations on who they can serve, and that families trying to stay together, people with disabilities or those with mental health issues run into more barriers than single adults.

Dozens of the camp’s tenants and housing advocates said the city needs to act immediately to provide both temporary and permanent housing options, medical and mental health services. 

“We have a Coliseum downtown, that is not being used for absolutely anything,” said Tracey Scott Hardney with Richmond’s NAACP. “Right now, the city can open that Coliseum up and get these people out of tents." 

She also said for there to be meaningful change, the city needs to actually listen to the voices of those most affected by homelessness. 

In a statement, 6th District City Councilmember  Ellen F. Robertson said, "While we have significant concerns for the health and safety of those living in the encampment, until a longer term solution is identified, we will work closely with these service providers to have a presence, on-site, at the Cold Weather Overflow Shelter so we can help connect those currently living there with available resources and more stable housing as quickly as possible."

Editor's Note: In the broadcast and web version of this story, the location of the camp was incorrectly listed as Shockoe Slip. This story has been updated to note it is closer to the Mosby Court neighborhood.

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