Richmond Braces for an End to Eviction Moratorium
At the end of this month, a moratorium on evictions will end, and thousands more Virginians could be homeless. The problem is already evident in Richmond where an estimated three thousand get emergency shelter each year.
RVA Light is a day shelter in Richmond, a place where people who have no home can spend a morning drinking coffee, playing games, using a computer or making phone calls to try and line up work or a place to stay. Rachel Johnson founded the program with friends and wishes she could do more.
“People come in here on a rainy morning, and they are drenched from sleeping under wet blankets. The other day a gentleman came in and told me he slept in a dumpster," she recalls. "He needed to get out of the rain. The dumpster had a lid, so he got in it.”
Sitting nearby is 58-year-old Michael who used to drive for Uber. A serious medical problem left him $85,000 in debt. Then he lost his license and now spends time looking for affordable housing.
“St. Paul’s Church you can sleep in the parking lot," he says. "There are flea bag motels that will charge you $200-$300 a week.”
Outside, 34-year-old Desmond says he’s been homeless since losing his job as a forklift operator.
“Because of COVID I was laid off," he explains. "Things got slow around the warehouse.”
He had been living with his mother, but when she died he couldn’t afford the rent. Fortunately, he had a car.
“The car was my home," he says, "but I got in a car accident, and now I’m in the streets.”
59-year-old Chris works in construction, but day jobs don’t pay much. He and his wife, who’s disabled, rent a single room in a house for $700 a month. It’s not ideal, but they say it’s better than sleeping outside or in a cheap hotel.
“My wife and I stayed in a hotel room for six months. I had to work seven days a week just to keep our rent up. Then we had to go to the food places to get something to eat, because the money I had made went to the rent.”
28-year-old Eric admits to a heroin habit – something he’s battled since both of his parents died. He found a bed at a local shelter but was soon evicted.
“I stayed in a shelter one time. I went outside and smoked a cigarette and they banned me because I broke the rules for smoking a cigarette outside after 10 o’clock.”
He says he’s been unable to get into a drug treatment program, and has been camping out under a bridge.
While their circumstances are different, all of these people could benefit from the stability of a home according to Kelly King Horne. She’s the director of Homeward, a regional planning and support agency working to address homelessness in Richmond and surrounding counties.
“The housing market has been so tough for low income renters,” she explains.
Fortunately, she says the pandemic has raised public awareness of this problem.
“Everyone this time last year was staying at home, and we understood that home meant safety.”
That brought more financial aid from Washington.
“Just that large influx of federal funds could be transformational.”
But she says local government needs to do more. There are 300 year-round emergency beds available, but an estimated 500 people need shelter on any given night.
King Horne hopes the city will follow up on a pilot program that provided social services to people at one of the area’s largest shelters.
“The housing navigator did things like helping someone get paperwork on a divorce decree so that they could apply to a new landlord. It was really customized solutions to help each household, and that sort of investment has really made a difference in a very difficult year.”
She’s hopeful that more assistance will come from the federal government where she says the problem of homelessness has drawn bi-partisan concern.