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This seasonal homeless shelter offers warmth and food amidst an increasing need in the New River Valley

Cots with quilts at a To Our House shelter in the New River Valley several years ago. Since the pandemic, the shelter has adjusted the sleeping spaces to allow more social distancing.
Courtesy To Our House
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Cots with quilts at a To Our House shelter in the New River Valley several years ago. Since the pandemic, the shelter has adjusted the sleeping spaces to allow more social distancing.

Increasing rental prices and high eviction rates are pushing more people out of their homes, a trend that’s happening in many communities across the Commonwealth, including in the New River Valley, putting pressure on some shelters who offer a warm bed for the night.

People who become homeless in the New River Valley have only a couple of options for shelter. The main one is called To Our House, which has space for 14 adults, which is only open at night from November to March.

“I had a call from a gentleman this morning who was looking for shelter,” said Carol Johnson, who works for New River Community Action and coordinates To Our House.

On this particular day, when the man called all of the spaces had already been reserved. Later that afternoon, a space opened up, so Johnson reached back out to tell the man he did have a bed for the night.
So far this season, they’ve been able to find a bed for everybody who asks, but overall the numbers of people asking for shelter are increasing, Johnson said.

To Our House began 13 years ago. The shelter rotates where it’s located week by week, usually near a bus route in Montgomery County. Churches provide space, and volunteers bring dinner.

“We couldn’t do this without the volunteers from the churches,” Johnson said. “We kind of say the volunteers are the heart and soul of this program.”

Johnson said before the pandemic, about 500 people volunteered to help with their winter shelter, most of them from churches. But during the pandemic, much of that help went away.

“During the pandemic people didn’t want to come into a congregate setting, understandably, and we didn’t want them to come into a congregate setting either, for safety.”

More volunteers have reached out to help this fall.

A church recently donated a house in Radford, and next week New River Community Action is opening part of the house to provide shelter for a disabled or elderly person.

Their group is also working to open the rest of the house into a shelter for up to 14 people, year round. They say they’ve been hearing an increasing interest in the past few months from community leaders across the New River Valley to offer more resources for people in need.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.