An estimated 70 people living in a growing homeless encampment in Richmond were given notice by the city today that they have until March 18 to vacate.
The tent encampment at 22nd Street and Carlson Boulevard, across the street from the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program, is posing significant health and safety risks to occupants and to others in surrounding areas, such as rodent infestation and mounting debris, and has been a drain on city resources, said Tim Higares, the director of Richmond’s Department of Infrastructure and Maintenance Operations.
City crews posted signs at the camp Monday warning about the March 18 abatement date. The effort is being done in coordination with county health and homeless services officials. A Coordinated Outreach Referral, Engagement (C.O.R.E.) program team was set to offer shelter and services to occupants, Higares said. GRIP is available to assist, and a warming center is being established in North Richmond, he added.
“We come out here at least three times a week to clean this up,” Higares said. “We’ve cleaned up over 5 tons of material since December.”
Among the debris there Monday were buckets of urine and hypodermic needles.
There were plans to close the camp in December, but a rodent infestation got in the way, Higares said. County health officials needed to determine whether any contamination from the infestation had affected campers. Last week, the city was given clearance to move forward with abatement. Higares said the vector problem is “only going to get worse.”
The problem has persisted despite an effort launched by Richmond Mayor Tom Butt in December to clean up the site. Occupants of the encampment participated in that effort. The mayor is currently trying to raise $1.5 million to build a designated encampment in the city staffed with services and resources.
Sedzi McNair, who says he’s stayed at the encampment and that his sister currently lives there, was concerned for the occupants.
“They’re treated like dirt,” he said. “The city comes and says, Move your stuff. What’s next? “Ain’t no telling where their next meal will come from. Having to fend for yourself out here, that’s not an easy job to do.”
McNair said he was also worried about what might happen with sole possessions of the occupants at the encampment. Higares said when the city comes to vacate the site on March 18, it will offer to provide temporary storage for occupants’ items.
“While abatement of an encampment of this size is a difficult and challenging step to take, the severity of the issues present there have led to the decision to move forward,” Higares said in a city statement.