City officials meet with ‘Camp Cathy’ organizers to announce homelessness plan

Updated: Feb. 5, 2020 at 6:07 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Talks got somewhat heated on Wednesday afternoon, as city officials share a plan to battle homelessness with the people of ‘Camp Cathy’.

The tent city along Oliver Hill Way now houses 90 tents and over 100 people.

City officials say that they planned to speak with each person of the camp in order to get their story and tailor help to their needs. The meeting itself, however, was 1.5 hours of growing tension, as some say they believe that officials didn’t properly address their concerns.

“This was not a meeting to evict people, although we don’t want anybody living in tents, we’re just trying to be compassionate and sensitive,” said Reggie Gordon with the city’s Office of Human Services.

And the compassion and sensitivity were meant to be displayed in a plan by the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Department of Social Services.

It would combat homelessness with seven main strategies, according to a copy of the plan:

  • Provide greater financial support to prevent individuals and families from being evicted from rental units or from losing their homes.
  • Create 150 emergency shelters beds by partnering with existing nonprofit and faith-based organizations to offer short-term shelter with supportive services with low or no barriers to sponsored, seasonal cold weather overflow shelters.
  • Increase the number of supportive housing by 300 units by providing financial assistance to the City’s homeless services and housing providers.
  • Increase financial support to the City’s homeless providers to ensure supportive services are available to every homeless person.
  • Provide additional supportive services and housing for populations that are experiencing homelessness that are currently under served;
  • Promote connections to comprehensive services including employment resources and behavioral health services for persons experiencing or at risk of becoming homeless.
  • Educate our citizens on the homelessness and provide collaborative leadership to all City homeless service and housing providers to ensure homeless programs are coordinated and effective.

But the details got lost in the back and forth between Councilwoman Robertson and the camp stakeholders.

“These people need houses. The intake process they were talking about, they’ve already been processed – they’re just waiting!” said Rhonda Sneed with Blessing Warriors RVA, a non-profit that has organized the camp.

As the matriarch of the camp, she says she wants the city to put actions to their words, referencing a moment when Gordon announced that he was notified on possible available housing.

“I received a text from someone just now that says he has thirty rooms that can comfortably house 60 people,” Gordon said at the podium.

In a one-on-one interview, Sneed said "Let’s see him take 60 people right now and put them in those rooms.”

She adds that she’s expecting 10 more people to add to the already 100 there.

Reggie Gordon says that despite fears of eviction, the primary focus now is to find housing for the people of Camp Cathy. Councilwoman Robertson says this is only the first of more meeting she plans to have with the camp.

Mayor Levar Stoney and Robertson released the following joint statement:

Today the city held a public meeting with residents currently living outdoors on property owned by Virginia Commonwealth University adjacent to the city’s Cold Weather Overflow Shelter.

These are some of the most vulnerable members of our community. We are working with the full continuum of Richmond’s non-profit, faith-based, homelessness and social service providers to support this community and to work with each resident individually to address their unique challenges and circumstances.

While we have significant concerns for the health and safety of those living in the encampment, until a longer term solution is identified, we will work closely with these service providers to have a presence, on-site, at the Cold Weather Overflow Shelter so we can help connect those currently living there with available resources and more stable housing as quickly as possible.

We firmly believe housing is a right, not a privilege. The city’s Homeless Strategic Plan will guide our path as we work with community stakeholders and members of City Council to find long-term solutions to homelessness in our city – from creating more shelter beds to providing healthy, safe and sustainable housing. We can and must do more.

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