City and community leaders brainstorm about helping homeless

By Tara Morgan - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Where will the homeless people go when Monroe Park undergoes a huge renovation? The park is expected to close for 9 to 18 months for the 6.2 million dollar project.

A safety fence, put up during construction, will keep out dozens of homeless.

A meeting Thursday night focused on three major issues: how to tell the homeless about the park closing, informing them about where to go for services and getting those providers into one central location.

19-year-old Devin Thompson has been living on the streets for nearly two years.

"When I first began to be homeless I used to have this fear of walking the streets at night. I'd be afraid to lay my head down," said Thompson.

Monroe Park became a safe haven.

"Monroe Park is one of the quietest places I've slept in," said Thompson.

He could also get a free meal, clothing and fellowship.

"It's just always been a natural magnet for people to come to," said Melba Gibbs with Freedom House.

But Gibbs said Monroe Park isn't the best place for homeless to get everything they need.

"Monroe Park is really a gathering place they get fed very well and they get clothed but that's all the services if they're in need of medical, mental health, prescriptions, housing it's not available to them at Monroe Park," said Gibbs.

Gibbs brainstormed with other service providers, city leaders and volunteers to find a better, more organized way to distribute food and clothing when Monroe Park closes for renovation.

Her suggestion, The Conrad Center. The soup kitchen serves up three meals, 7 days a week. But Gibbs said it offers so much more.

"They can really get engaged with services down there from Department of Social Services to food stamps, veterans services, disabilities," said Gibbs.

Councilman Charles Samuels, who called Thursday night's meeting, said the suggestions will be reviewed to put a quality plan in place.

It's important to note the renovation of Monroe Park is still in its planning stages and a time-table hasn't yet been established.

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