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UPDATED: Shelter, Healthcare Efforts Underway for Tent City Residents In Richmond

Man in front of tents with luggage
Cletus Bailey, Sr., 69, loading up his belongings into a suitcase in anticipation of moving out of Camp Cathy on Monday. (Photo: Roberto Roldan/VPM)

UPDATE 03/19/20:

More than 60 homeless residents of a tent city near the Richmond Jail have been moved to alternative housing amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement Thursday morning, Richmond officials say they are being provided with two weeks of housing in a shelter or motel room. While there, volunteers and non-profit organizations like Homeward and Commonwealth Catholic Charities are providing them with free meals.

Kelly King Horne, Homeward's executive director, says after today the non-profits will move to trying to connect residents of the encampment with more permanent housing and job placement. She also says officials could reassess the two-week alternative housing plan if the COVID-19 outbreak continues.

“We’ve been consistent from the beginning: two weeks is our starting point and then we reassess, and then we shift to services, housing, healthcare, all of that," Horne said.

City officials and non-profit groups have been criticized by advocates who initially set up the tent city, known as Camp Cathy. 

In a Facebook post, Rhonda Sneed of Blessing Warriors RVA says the city has now removed the tents of those who left, creating concerns over where they will go after the COVID-19 pandemic passes.

"I received calls all night from residents afraid....afraid of the 'next,'" Sneed wrote. "I assured them we would sit in our cars until they were gone and resume serving them when they arrive at their destination. I’m praying for a smooth transition for our sisters and brother during this difficult time of uncertainty.

City officials say they will restrict outside access to the site starting tonight.

ORIGINAL STORY 03/16/20:

Richmond officials and area non-profits began an aggressive push Monday to find alternative shelters for dozens of homeless individuals living in an encampment near the city jail.

The city announced that it is providing funding to nonprofits to find shelter beds or motel rooms for individuals living at what’s been dubbed “Camp Cathy.” The effort is being coordinated by the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care, Homeward and Commonwealth Catholic Charities. Healthcare workers with the group Daily Planet are also providing medical screenings in the Annie E. Giles Community Center adjacent to the encampment.

Kelly King Horne, Homeward’s executive director, said officials are concerned that the COVID-19 outbreak could spread rapidly if it makes it into Camp Cathy.

“We are learning that people experiencing homelessness are at greater risk both for getting the COVID-19 virus and then for having adverse effects if they are impacted,” she said.

Horne said the volunteers and staff working at Camp Cathy received training over the weekend in sanitary best practices and CDC guidelines. 

As staff helped people to pack up their tents and belongings Monday morning, they all wore masks. Hand sanitizer and sanitary wipes were put on the table where donated food was handed out. 

Cletus Bailey Sr., who has been living at Camp Cathy for about two weeks, was packing all of his clothes into a suitcase in anticipation of moving to a shelter or motel room. 

Bailey said Camp Cathy residents had been doing the best they can to keep things sanitary, despite the lack of showers or running water.

“We are just as clean out here as we would be if we had a home, because we know we have to keep ourselves clean or we can get sick out here from filth,” he said.

Bailey said he was excited by the prospect of moving out of his tent, but said he hopes the city can also provide long-term housing or job placement.

“If they put me up somewhere for two weeks, okay, but then I have to come back out just in two weeks,” he said. “I’d end up in the same stage.”

In a press release, Richmond officials said permanent supportive housing and access to healthcare will accompany the emergency shelter they are providing for Camp Cathy residents. 

Horne said it could take multiple days to clear the encampment and find emergency shelter for everyone. 

These nonprofits are also looking for donations and assistance to meet the needs of Richmond’s homeless population. Those who are interested can donate cleaning supplies, thermometers, canned food, and gift cards. Click here for more information. 

If you know or come across someone who is homeless or is within three days of losing their housing, urge them to call the Homeless Crisis Line at 804-972-0813.