A Conversation About the Homeless Population of Richmond, VA

In 2015, one in four Richmond residents was homeless. Although these numbers have decreased, the support they receive has only declined. Monroe Park was once a hub for the homeless population. It served as a place where they could congregate, a place where organizations could host meals, clothing drives and job fairs. In January 2017, VCU put up big orange and white barricades and started renovations on the park. Although there was no malicious intent, 50% of the homeless population was displaced. Local churches such as St. Paul’s Church in downtown Richmond stepped up to the plate and started hosting dinners to make up for the meals that were not being served anymore. Monroe Park recently pulled down the barricades but the city of Richmond still is putting a hold on any events happening in the park for the foreseeable future.

This isn’t just adults either. Although the median age of people experiencing homelessness in Richmond was 47 in 2018, 7.8% reported having children with them. In 2018, 74 children were documented as homeless. These children typically go without schooling, food, social opportunities and overall a childhood. It is so important that we pay attention to who is affected because it’s not just the man who sits on your stoop every morning, it’s also the malnourished, dirty little boy you see sitting on the grass with his mom, waiting for any kind of food.

Homeward, a nonprofit organization based out of Richmond not only collects data about the population but also hosts dozens of volunteer opportunities throughout the year. Even just the simple act of donating your jeans to Homeward rather than Goodwill will make a difference for those in need. Homeward also provides Street Sheets which are forms that those in need can find events around Richmond to receive the aid they need. The sheets are available on the Homeward website and can be handed out freely. The next time someone asks you for money, handing them a Street Sheet rather than a $1 bill will help them more in the long run.

45% of the population reports having a mental health problem sometime in their lifetime. 54.6% of that percentage are currently being treated and a staggering 90.0% have received counseling or treatment sometime in their lifetime. From this we can pull an almost direct correlation of mental health and homelessness. We need to help these people. Mental health is real and life threatening. The limited access they have to proper care needs to be fixed. Insurances require a permanent address in order to apply for reduced medication costs so those affected are paying all of their money just to survive. Medications can range from $10 to $400 for a months supply. That is the difference between eating or not.

Homelessness is a problem that will affect humans for as long as we have civilizations and domiciles but it is something that can’t simply be ignored. It is easy to forget the problem altogether when you have a warm place to sleep and a busy schedule. Volunteer and donate if you want to see a difference in your community.

Image Credits: Scott Elmquist, DeForrest Ballou