Cathy's Camp

2/21/2020, 6 a.m.
The Bible tells us, “The poor will always be with you.” But Richmond has got to find a better way ...

The Bible tells us, “The poor will always be with you.”

But Richmond has got to find a better way to help people in need.

Latest case in point: The people living in the Cathy’s Camp tent city.

City officials seem to be struggling more to handle the situation rather than to help the people, many of whom have a myriad of health, mental health and other problems that exacerbate their financial lack.

Some Cathy’s Camp residents say they would rather remain in the privacy and security of their own tent outside in the cold than to trade it for a night or more inside a warm shelter where they are subject to someone else’s rules and regulations and housed in an open area without any personal space.

No doubt Rhonda Sneed, the founder of Blessing Warriors RVA, deserves a medal, as do her many volunteers, for their sustained efforts, to provide food, warm clothing, blankets, rides to medical appointments and other help, including bring- ing a sense of order and community to the 100-plus residents of Cathy’s Camp.

However, it will take a larger push and coordinated aim by city officials and agencies, such as the Department of Social Services and the city Office of Community Wealth Building, and area nonprofit and church groups, such as Homeward, Partnership for Housing Affordability, Commonwealth Catholic Charities, the United Way, the Salvation Army, the Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond and others, to provide more permanent housing solutions coupled with “wrap-around” services, such as job training and health services.

Now is the time for these groups to employ some of the “best practices” strategies they have learned about in confer- ences attended through the years. Richmond is not the first or only city to be beset by this situation. We can learn from what others have done to remove the obstacles that keep poor people and homeless folks out of housing, such as the requirement by most landlords for upfront payment of a security deposit and/ or first and last month’s rent to move in.

Programs around the country have sprung up to help people maneuver around this barrier.

Massachusetts, for example, has the RAFT program, Rental Assistance for Families in Transition, funded by the state to help families who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, for up to 12 months with expenses such as security and utility deposits, first and last month’s rent and furniture. The maximum assistance amount is $4,000 over 12 months.

Richmond can set up such a grant and/or loan program through one of the nonprofit agencies with community and corporate donations, as well as some federal money that can be used for this purpose. Many agencies also have built relationships with landlords who may, in the circumstance of Cathy’s Camp resi- dents, allow the security deposit to be paid in installments.

Advocates stress that any rental assistance programs must help the individual or family address their ability to maintain the housing once the subsidy ends. But they also note that many households will be in a much better position to increase their income and address their other needs once they have housing.

The current situation requires genuine caring, determination, leadership and a willingness to step up to the plate. We can learn from Ms. Sneed’s example.