By Mike Kinney
After city of Richmond crews closed a large homeless encampment at 22nd Street and Carlson Boulevard on Tuesday, a nearby Warming Center established Monday to assist the city’s homeless was less than half occupied in its first two nights.
However, Kathleen Sullivan, executive director at the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program, told the Standard the low occupancy was anticipated.
“We did a soft launch, we were hoping for a slow start,” Sullivan said. “We are expecting as the word gets out we will have a growing interest.”
On Tuesday, the City of Richmond closed down the encampment where dozens of people had been living, citing mounting health, safety and resource concerns. On March 5, the city gave campers two weeks notice about the closure, but then postponed it to await the opening of a Warming Center at GRIP, located across the street.
City crews placed large rocks in the former camp area to prevent another encampment from popping up again. They hope some of that population will take advantage of the newly opened Warming Center, which provides beds, food and warmth from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday.
The Warming Center features 30 beds. Overnight Monday, nine people stayed there, and on Tuesday, after the city officially closed the camp, 11 people stayed, Sullivan said. Those who have thus far used the Warming Center included regular visitors to GRIP and former encampment residents, Sullivan said.
People are not allowed to simply walk in to the Warming Center to receive services. They must first call 211. They are then connected to a Coordinated Outreach Referral, Engagement (C.O.R.E.) team that refers people to the Warming Center.
Priority at the Warming Center is given to families first, seniors second and the disabled third. But folks have to want to use the services.
“I heard last night, that C.OR.E had two families that called and when they went to the spot to pick them up, they weren’t there,” Sullivan said. “So C.O.R.E has quite a job on their hands, because they are the ones who pick them up and get them to us here at GRIP.”
Meanwhile, local homeless advocates criticized the closure of the encampment, citing a lack of adequate alternatives provided to the displaced campers.