More shelters in place

1/4/2024, 6 p.m.
Ask Mayor Levar M. Stoney about the unsheltered people in the city, and he’ll tell you the city is doing …

Ask Mayor Levar M. Stoney about the unsheltered people in the city, and he’ll tell you the city is doing a bang-up job of addressing the need.

The wanna-be Virginia governor points to the winter shelters the city has just established, including the 150-bed overnight shelter for single men and women the Salvation Army is operating at 1900 Chamberlayne Ave. and the 50-bed family shelter that HomeAgain is operating at 7 N. 2nd St.

He also notes the city’s investment in a Family Emergency Fund that the nonprofit Humankind is administering to provide emergency grants to help families deal with financial issues and avoid eviction.

“My heart breaks for the unhoused in the community,” he stated this week in response to a Free Press query. “It has always been my administration’s priority to help as many people as we can – to strive to be the Capital of Compassion and give everyone a fair shot.

“The City of Richmond has come a long way in terms of the quality of the services and critical regional partnerships formed to help our unhoused,” he continued. “We recognize the continued importance of supporting families in crisis and are proud of the city’s historic investment to provide shelter and support.”

Sounds great until you hear from a homeless advocate like Rhonda Sneed, who spends 12 to 14 hours a day rallying support from like-minded volunteers and delivering food, shoes, gloves, coats and other cold-weather gear to the homeless.

The co-founder and unpaid leader of Blessing Warriors RVA, Ms. Sneed sees too many left out and left behind to offer praise for anything the mayor has done. She makes a powerful case that the city is not doing enough.

Every adult does not go to the shelter as we found when we went to a Downtown food distribution site and talked with some people who told us they were staying in the woods.

The day after Christmas, Ms. Sneed reported that city officials working for Mayor Stoney threw away the tents, blankets and belongings of three people and left them to sleep on the cold sidewalk. So far as we can tell, they would not conduct such cleanups without having his blessing and approval.

“Now that Christmas is over,” she wrote in a Facebook post, “the foolishness returns” in citing the city’s action. “When the shelters are full, people must have some place to sleep. Last night was very difficult knowing these people had no shelter at all and slept on the cold ground in just their coats. How often can you kick a person when they’re already down?”

She also has been highly critical of the mayor and his administration in not doing enough for families with babies and young children. Her group raised enough money to provide about five days of hotel stays for six families during Christmas. After the holidays, the families were back on the street.

Ms. Sneed distributed a photograph of a young child huddling under blankets in front of an abandoned building in the city in calling on the city to provide additional space.

The mayor encouraged families with children to call the Homeless Connection Line at (804) 972-0813 for shelter options. The Free Press has done so and confirmed reports from Ms. Sneed that all the beds are filled and that there are no options.

It is unknown how many families now are trying to survive without shelter, but there is no question that the city has the money to care for another 50 families if necessary.

The city’s latest comprehensive audit indicates that the mayor is more interested in gaining a more favorable credit rating from Wall Street that ensuring that no child in this city goes to bed without a roof over their head.

The audit revealed the Stoney administration has generated savings accounts that grew dramatically this year and now hold nearly $170 million in unspent taxpayer dollars – at least $15 million more than a policy established by City Council requires.

But this mayor believes the city has done enough for the homeless, and so apparently does City Council, which has not weighed in to open additional space to ensure that children who cannot fit into the current family shelters do not freeze to death.

Council members have talked about how they care, just like Mayor Stoney, but doing something about these children seems beyond their abilities.

In our view, Ms. Sneed is right. The city ought to be about saving the children, not creating a storehouse of dollars if it truly wants to be a Capital of Compassion.

Right now, the city is falling far short.