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Homelessness Service Providers Face Spending Questions

richmond city hall
Richmond City Hall. (Photo: Craig Carper/VPM News)

At the start of the pandemic, Richmond’s homeless service providers began offering temporary shelter in hotels and motels. But residents have since been calling attention to what they say are substandard shelter conditions and a lack of pathways to permanent housing

The organization Homeward is in charge of the Richmond region’s homeless services. The city provided them with federal CARES Act dollars to put the motel program in place. 

In recent weeks, some advocates have posted photos to social media showing dirty appliances and moldy motel rooms and sent officials a list of demands that includes conducting an audit of homeless service providers’ expenses. 

Fourth District Councilmember Kristen Larson has requested a full accounting of the motel program, among other spending.

“I’m also looking to see how much money we’re spending on wraparound services or support services,” Larson said. “Folks are being put-up in temporary housing situations, but they’re not being counseled or getting support.”

Larson said she’s experienced firsthand challenges when trying to get help for her constituents. She added that she’s had a hard time even reaching the homeless crisis line.

“If the only way they can access those services is through the hotline and they’re unable to get through the hotline, then I’m really concerned that folks are slipping through the cracks,” Larson said.   

VPM called the number every morning for about a week and was sent to voicemail each time. 

The homeless crisis line is now the only means of accessing shelter when temperatures drop below 40 degrees. In the past, the Annie Giles Center served as a walk-in shelter when the weather got cold. But in an effort to keep people separated during the pandemic, that emergency shelter is now a hotel on Midlothian Turnpike and does not accept walk-ins. 

Last week, Larson asked for a line-item budget from Homeward, she said with hopes that it could highlight the current problem and a possible solution. She said she hasn’t yet received that information.