Housing and feeding brethen in need

2/15/2024, 6 p.m.
Homelessness affects hundreds of people in the Greater Richmond area.

Homelessness affects hundreds of people in the Greater Richmond area.

It’s a fact that led Richmond City Council to pass an ordinance on Monday night to allocate $7 million toward a $15 million project that would transform a North Side homeless shelter and create a partnership with the Salvation Army in its Center of Hope on Chamberlayne Avenue.

Center of Hope will offer expanded services year-round, including more beds for families and a community resource center to access wraparound city services.

We applaud this effort that City Council Vice President Ann-Frances Lambert described as just the beginning.

And much needed.

In September 2023, Homeward, an organization with a mission to reduce, prevent and end local homelessness, published its July 2023 federally-mandated Point in Time (PIT) count. The PIT count is a tally of changes and trends of homelessness in the region.

The most recent PIT count recorded 486 people experiencing homelessness, an 8.7% increase compared to the reported 447 people experiencing homelessness from the PIT count in July 2022.

“At this time, I know the homelessness issue is a growing concern in the city,” Pastor Jay Patrick

recently told Richmond Free Press reporter Darlene M. Johnson. “There is a lack of supply for the growing demand.” Pastor Patrick is founder of Liberation Church in South Side and lead pastor alongside his wife, Ashley Patrick.

The Greater Richmond area’s homelessness level has remained high since the COVID-19 pandemic due to the low supply and high demand of assistance programs and affordable housing resources, according to Homeward.

Local churches are helping to bridge the gap, providing some necessities to people experiencing homelessness.

“We collaborate with churches to serve and prepare meals for our programs,” Pastor Patrick said. “Our food pantry is made up of volunteers from churches all over the city.”

Liberation initiated a homeless program for veterans in 2013. The church has a 38-bed facility at 12th and Hull streets. Almost 100 churches regularly serve meals for the program. Liberation also provides housing and wraparound services to an average of just under 100 homeless veterans annually.

“We have served 715 homeless veterans with an 86% success rate since our inception,” Pastor Patrick added. “We also have a family resource center where we assist families in crisis that may be experiencing homelessness.”

Even though housing is not offered at the family resource center, Liberation provides referrals and other resources, along with maintaining a small budget for emergency housing when appropriate. “We have another program for non-veterans that houses about 40 or so individuals a year who are homeless and need respite while they are in recovery,” Pastor Patrick said.

Liberation also has provided non-housing related resources to hundreds of other people through its resource center and counseling programs. The church also operates a food pantry that served 21,688 people, many of whom were homeless, in 2023, Pastor Patrick noted.

Other Liberation services include a thrift store that offers clothing vouchers, and support for employment, and help for mental health and substance abuse.

Homeless services should be more than “just square footage, a sleeping area and HVAC,” Pastor Patrick explained. To truly mitigate the issue of homelessness, a “dignified space and wraparound services for mental health, substance abuse, employment, education” and other vital resources are needed.

“You must graduate some of these individuals from homelessness to self-sufficiency or liberation if you will,” Pastor Patrick said.

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in North Side, the South’s oldest Black Episcopal church, also collaborates with local churches to help the homeless.

The Rev. Marlene E. Forrest, who joined St. Philip’s as priest-in-charge in 2020 and was installed as rector in 2022, said the church assists 125 to 150 housed and unhoused individuals monthly.

“In the past, individuals from St. Philip’s have volunteered with the Emmaus Ministry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church,” Rev. Forrest said in an email. “As we continue to move into a post-COVID season, many plan to volunteer once again.”

St. Philip’s also receives food donations from members of the Trinity Baptist Church for its St. Francis Food Pantry. The pantry, an effort Rev. Forrest is most proud of, runs the second and fourth Fridays of each month year-round. During each distribution, St. Philip’s serves between 80 and 100 families.

The food pantry works in conjunction with St. Philip’s Community Garden that volunteers tend. The food grown supplements the pantry and allows those in need to have fresh produce.

In addition, the St. Philip’s Little Free Pantry provides those in need with food, hygiene products and seasonal items such as winter hats, scarves and gloves.

Rev. Forrest is proud of what the pantry provides and thankful for contributions from the community.

“It is our hope that as we continue to grow our Community Engagement Ministry, opportunities to partner with local churches will emerge,” she said.