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Regional homelessness count hits new outdoors record

New Pathways with small sign appended to wall: RVA Sister's Keeper, Inclement Weather Shelter
Scott Elmquist
VPM News

The Greater Richmond Continuum of Care conducted its study while Richmond struggled to secure inclement weather shelters.

A key measure of homelessness in the Richmond region indicates that more people are spending it unsheltered than any time in the last 15 years.

Twice a year, homelessness service providers conduct a “Point in Time” count of those experiencing homelessness. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development includes those staying in shelters, hotels paid for by government or nonprofit agencies; and individuals staying outdoors or in a place not meant for human habitation.

Shelters can include emergency shelters, transitional housing, and sexual and domestic violence providers.

Homelessness service providers recorded 690 people experiencing homelessness on the night of Jan. 25 and on Jan. 26. That is down 1% from last year, but the number of people staying in unsheltered conditions, such as cars, tents, or on the street, more than doubled — from 85 people in January 2022 to 188 people in January 2023.

“It takes time to hear from people who were actually living outdoors and understand their story to see exactly why that number has increased,” said Michael Rogers, program director at Homeward, the organization that helps oversee the count. “But access to appropriate services, and access really to deeply affordable housing, are certainly the biggest drivers.”

The count is required by the federal government to inform planning and funding. It’s typically conducted statewide twice a year at the same time, for a more accurate snapshot of the issue.

In July 2022, the Point in Time count recorded 447 people experiencing homelessness in the Richmond Region. The region includes the town of Ashland and the counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent and Powhatan.

While the rate of homelessness in the counties is typically “significantly lower than in the city,” Rogers said Henrico and Chesterfield saw significantly more people experiencing homelessness outdoors.

Rogers called it a “new trend” representative of housing instability across the region.

The morning of Jan. 26, temperatures were at a low of 42 degrees Fahrenheit, which is cold enough for inclement weather shelters to operate. Richmond City shelters faced long delays and missed multiple target dates for opening shelters ahead of the winter.

Homeward manages Point in Time counts as the planning agency for the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care. GRCoC coordinates homeless services in Richmond and the surrounding counties.

In a press release Kelly King Horne, Homeward’s executive director, pointed to predictions that the scheduled closure of emergency shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic and the deficit of affordable and deeply affordable housing as likely reasons for the higher rate of unsheltered homelessness.

Mayor Levar Stoney is proposing hiring a second homelessness services liaison in the fiscal 2024 budget he proposed to City Council on Monday.

The proposal also included $1.75 million in new funding for homeless services and emergency shelters, and $200,000 in incremental funding for homelessness service organizations.

The latest Point in Time count also provided a snapshot of the vulnerable populations that experience homelessness. Approximately 44.5% were 55 or older, and 63.7% reported their race as African-American/Black.

Rogers pointed to two different structural issues as contributing to this disproportionate share of those experiencing homelessness: the history of racism and its denial of housing opportunities to Black Americans, and labor trends for older workers.

Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.
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