By Mike Kinney
Martin Luther King Jr. Day wasn’t just a day of service in Richmond on Monday, but also one of hope. That hope came in the form of 100 sleeping bags, along with tents, coats and other resources, being distributed at various locations where people experiencing homelessness reside in the city, including an encampment on Caltrans property that was recently dismantled for health and safety reasons.
Big City Mountaineers and NEMO donated 200 sleeping bags to Groundwork Richmond, half of which were distributed Monday. Safe Organized Spaces Richmond (S0S!), Contra Costa County’s CORE Mobile Homeless Outreach (Coordinated Outreach Referral, Engagement) team and Ephesians Church-God in Christ also pooled their resources for Monday’s distribution.
Usually on MLK Jr. Day, Groundwork Richmond works with Friends of the Richmond Greenway to conduct a day of community service, bringing hundreds of volunteers out to spruce of the Greenway and to offer resources for folks in need. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that event couldn’t happen safely, so the focus this year transitioned to a homeless outreach effort, said Jayson Johnson, director of field operations for Groundwork Richmond.
The day began with a distribution effort at homeless encampments along Cutting Blvd between South 9th and South 8th. One encampment that had recently been cleared out left 15 people with no form of shelter.
“There is no place to put them to live,” said Antwon Cloird, a homeless outreach coordinator. “They are ending up living in storefronts or camping out on street corners.”
Cloird helped steer the participating organizations to over 20 locations where homeless individuals are known to reside in Iron Triangle, Civic Center, the Greenway and Southside.
A woman named Keshia gushed with gratitude after receiving one of the high-quality sleeping bags at Nevin Park.
“It gets so cold here in the night time,” she said. “I only had a few blankets, this will make a big difference.”
Near the Target store along the BART tracks, numerous encampment residents turned out to receive the donated items and resources, with one remarking, “Thank God for this blessing.” One individual named Paul who camps along the Greenway noted the sleeping bag is “of great help during this winter weather.”
“Dr. King had a vision that all individuals are worthy of investment,” said Johnson. “By helping homeless people, we are investing in the community that needs the most help. I’m happy to be a part of the Richmond community and proud to work with an organization like Groundwork Richmond.”