News broke recently of the City’s plans to abruptly close the downtown cold weather homeless shelter located at the Public Safety Building and not make it available starting this October. Apparently, the Coliseum redevelopment deal that is in the works has new plans for that land. No doubt, those shiny new plans don’t call for a homeless shelter remaining as part of the mix.
But the City cannot simply do away with its homeless shelter. It has to find a new home. And regardless of the benefits of having a centralized downtown facility to serve the homeless, Dominion’s Tom Farrell and the City want it out of the way.
So where is the newly proposed location? Their solution calls for pushing the homeless shelter across the river into the middle of Manchester’s residential district and into the former Community Bainbridge Street Baptist Church & School at 1101 Bainbridge Street. After sitting down with Jay Brown who runs the homeless shelter on behalf of the city as part of Commonwealth Catholic Charities and his hired lobbyist for the initiative Kathy Graziano, here is what is known of the plans:
- Commonwealth Catholic Charities has been given a directive by the City to vacate the Public Safety Building by October 1st of this year and set up in a new location, paving the way for the Coliseum redevelopment plans.
- Commonwealth Catholic Charities has put Manchester’s Community Bainbridge Street Baptist Church & School complex under contract for purchase as its new location for the homeless shelter.
- The proposed Manchester homeless shelter would no longer be a cold weather shelter as it is at the Public Safety Building location. Rather, it would be a permanent, continuously operating, consolidated homeless shelter hub for the entire City of Richmond. The city’s homeless feeding station activities that were once located at Monroe Park, but were pushed out by VCU and the City as part of the Monroe Park redevelopment, is now proposed to be located in Manchester’s residential neighborhood. The homeless of the city would need to travel across the river to Manchester’s residential neighborhood for food, shelter, and services.
- Since the location of the Community Bainbridge Baptist Church is in a residential area, zoning does not permit using the church complex as a homeless shelter.
- Mayor Stoney’s Administration is working with Commonwealth Catholic Charities in drafting a Special Use Permit to clear the city’s zoning restrictions, enabling the move of the homeless shelter to Manchester’s residential district. A special, off cycle meeting of city council is being proposed in August to expedite the approval.
- Commonwealth Catholic Charities intends to house and service the homeless in the school facilities on Bainbridge as well as build a new structure on the basketball courts at the rear of the building to accommodate more beds. Homeless folks could then move into permanent housing on site at the newly constructed building once they graduate from the temporary housing in the proposed shelter at the church school.
But here is the problem. The downtown area of the City of Richmond needs a central homeless facility. Pushing that facility out of downtown and south of the river into Manchester screams of “put it where there will be the least resistance” type of governing. It is a feeble attempt to get it out of the way. And the coliseum plan is a terrible excuse as to why this needs to be done, and done this very minute. It is a poor solution at best. The City is attempting to turn its back on the issue and push the downtrodden across the river, and hoping no one will notice. Leader’s of other cities have been excoriated for giving the homeless bus tickets and moving them out of town before sporting events such as the Super Bowl or World Cup. This sure feels awfully similar. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
Manchester is already doing its part to help serve the homeless need with two homeless shelters/centers as it stands. The first is Liberation Family Services, a roughly 17,000 square foot building at 1201 Hull Street serving homeless Veterans which is only two blocks away from the proposed new shelter at 1101 Bainbridge. The second and absolutely massive megasite is the 5+ acre Caritas center which is under renovation and will be located eight tenths of a mile away from the proposed Bainbridge location at 2220 Stockton St. The Caritas site is a sprawling former Phillip Morris tobacco leaf drying plant that will provide a whopping 132,000+ square feet. Adding a third shelter to the mix has the potential to overwhelm Manchester with the city’s entire homeless population. Seems awfully lopsided if you ask us.
This move seems out of character for the Stoney Administration. The City needs to calm down, think this through, and come up with well thought out plans rather than this coliseum induced rush-job. The Richmond 300 plan seems like the perfect forum for that proper planning to occur. However, it sure sounds like the freight train is already leaving the station.
If you would like to learn more about the proposed homeless shelter, there will be a meeting led by Commonwealth Catholic Charities on August 1st, at 1101 Bainbridge Street at 6:30 PM. We encourage you to attend.