According to its housing services director, Jay Brown, the nonprofit has been on the hunt for a new location for its cold-weather overflow shelter space for several years. He describes the shelter's current location at the Public Safety building as dilapidated, and says people who rely on it as shelter are “robbed of their dignity.” The proposed facility at 1101 Bainbridge St., a residential zone which requiring a special use permit, would also serve as a central location for other services the Richmond group provides, like employment assistance and basic care needs.
Before taking questions from the audience, Brown shared some numbers: The proposed shelter would house as many as 200 people at a time, but the number of individuals using the current location averages about 82 per night. The average stay is 11 nights and he says the goal is always to make resources available that will help people re-establish permanent housing as quickly as possible.
“To have a place during the cold weather months where people can stabilize briefly, where we can get them connected with the services they need and get them headed back in the right direction is what we’re all about,” Brown says.
Some residents expressed concerns about neighborhood safety and limited infrastructure, while others shared their passionate support for the proposed shelter. But most people in the room seemed to agree on one thing: They want more information, from both the charity and the city. They want to know how the group’s projects have impacted surrounding residential areas in the past, what other properties may have been overlooked as location options, and what kind of timeline the city is considering.
Sixth District City Councilwoman Ellen Robertson was the last to speak at the meeting, and told the audience that she also wants more information, starting with the group’s list of other potential sites. She also encouraged those in attendance to show up at City Council meetings and hold the city accountable for making policies that take care of vulnerable populations.
“Now is the time for Richmond to have clear housing policies that do not exclude opportunities for families that are homeless,” she says.
As for next steps, Brown says he will keep the community posted and involved in the process. Commonwealth catholic Charities has not yet submitted an application for a special-use permit, which will require City Council and Planning Commission approval.