Aug 10, 2022 - News

Homeless help runs out in Richmond

Illustration of a homeless person sitting in front of a white picket fence
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The pandemic prompted an unprecedented flood of government spending to help house people experiencing homelessness.

  • But, as of earlier this summer, it's all run out.

Why it matters: The number of available beds in Richmond-area shelters has plummeted, with nearly half of the region's unhoused people living outdoors.

  • That's according to a point-in-time count at the end of last month conducted by the region's homeless services coordinator, Homeward.

What they're saying: "We were able to respond at scale, and that's so unusual in human services — being able to meet the need," Homeward's director, Kelly King Horne, tells Axios. "And now we're back to shelters being underfunded again."

  • She estimates the total funding in the region for emergency shelters increased from about $1 million a year to $10 million over the course of the pandemic, largely as a result of grants funded by the CARES Act.

Details: In 2020, a few months before the pandemic began, there were 546 people in the Richmond area experiencing homelessness, 23% of whom were unhoused, according to Homeward.

  • By winter 2021, the number of people experiencing homelessness rose to 834, but nearly all of them were given shelter through a hotel voucher program.
  • The trend continued through this winter, with just 12% of homeless people living without shelter.

Context: A similar dynamic has played out for tenants struggling to make rent, who during the pandemic suddenly had access to more than $1 billion in state assistance, which has also run dry as eviction filings by landlords increase.

What's next: Homeless service providers worry things are only going to get worse.

  • "It's going to continue to be really difficult unless something changes with the housing market," Taylor Garrett, an outreach director at Daily Planet Health Services, tells Axios. "We're seeing a lot of folks who are unable to pay their rents right now."
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