There are thousands of homeless in Richmond and I have no idea how to deal with them. What is the proper etiquette? Do you give them money or something to eat? Do you ignore homeless people? Tell them “No thank you, I can’t help you?” Are you consistent? Are you sympathetic to their plight? Do they make you angry? Are they all on drugs, drunk or mentally ill?
I am cautious around unstable and desperate people, especially now that I’m a parent. I have had trouble explaining to my children why the people we see hanging out in intersections are allowed to break the rules of the road that I’ve worked so hard to teach them. Or why we cannot camp out in our parks and on benches at night like those same people. It’s confusing to them.
With the City of Richmond announcing a $6 million plan to improve the very visible Monroe Park — widely known as the number one place to find homeless in the River City. City leaders and a group of citizens say they are looking to make the city’s oldest park more open and family-friendly.
I don’t get everywhere in the city, but I have encountered homeless in many unexpected places over my many years here. This list isn’t meant to be harsh or insensitive to the homeless, but I am trying to illustrate how many key locations have suffered from the blight of homeless.
Monroe Park – You will find all types there, and it has been that way for as long as I can recall. The Daily Planet shelter used to be a couple of blocks south of the park. Different organizations regularly feed people in the park. NBC12’s Rachel DePompa detailed the renovation plan, which included a café with public restrooms and seating on a sunken plaza, a granite water feature that would be designed to mimic the James River.
I’ve seen enough abuse of fountains by homeless folk and as much as I love the push in Richmond to encourage public art, I have my doubts that this fountain will avoid being abused. Sounds like a running urinal in waiting.
Anywhere on Grace Street – From Belvidere down to Centenary Church at 4th Street and beyond. Monroe Ward used to be a glorious gateway to the West End from downtown. Then, automobiles and suburbia ruined it, and the majority of the old Victorian homes were replaced with drab storefronts. Now, many of the remaining businesses are blighted by hoards of people roaming the streets looking for a hand out — many likely mentally ill. Many of the entranceways of empty businesses have been treated as urinals for years.
Kanawha Plaza – This must be a resort or oasis of sorts for the homeless. The stage in the park used for Friday’s a Sunset is a ready-made shelter and the attractive fountain in the plaza doubles as the laundromat. I’ve seen it and while I feel sad for the people, I hate that a beautiful spot of the city doesn’t belong to the downtown workers that deserve a pleasant, clean park.
Anywhere within a four-block radius of the Greyhound bus station – The Boulevard between Broad Street and Westwood Avenue is littered with humans with no better place to bed down than under an overpass or behind a warehouse. The Boulevard needs to have this problem addressed as the Richmond continues to encourage economic growth and development in that promising area.
Leigh Street and Belvidere – Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between “Homeless: 2 kids, no job, need food” and “I’m report for work to this corner everyday.” That sounds so harsh, but there are people who have been at that same intersection for YEARS. I believe they are homeless, but I don’t believe that it will help them stop being homeless if people continue to support them with change out of their windows.
Belvidere and Canal streets – The Daily Planet used to be there, so there is history. VCU bought the property and moved everyone out, but there is plenty of lingering homeless. Traditions are hard to break.
Lombardy Street, between Maggie Walker Governor’s School and Virginia Union University, under the Interstate 95 overpass – It’s a shame that those two institutions have to be sullied. The chain-link fence under I-95 has signs warning against trespassing, but plenty of people live back in the weeds under the shelter of the overpass by the train tracks.
James River downtown at the Pipeline Trail – Actually, they also live among all the islands around Mayo Island downtown at the Great Blue Heron rookery. These guys have a tent city, mostly in the summer. I’ve looked down on the tarp houses from Vistas on the James. These are the hearty, self-sufficient types that aren’t likely looking for a handout and generally you never see them — just their stuff.
Broad Street in Shockoe Bottom – Not as bad as it used to be, but I’ve seen plenty hanging out in Shockoe Bottom at the Exxon across from McDonald’s recently. Same dudes every time.
Bryan Park – This is from personal experience. They like to live in the backwoods or along the interstates. More of the self-sufficient types — never had them ask me for anything.
This is not an overly thorough list. I am not that familiar with Southside, Highland Park or Church Hill. I’m not trying to offend anyone and I’m clearly not overly educated on homeless in Richmond. I don’t know the solution.
Key statistics from January 2009 of homeless people in Richmond:
Total homeless population: 1,150 (1,014 adults and 136 children).
Adults with children: 11 percent.
Unsheltered individuals: 16 percent.
Gender: 74 percent male; 26 percent female.
Family status: 56 percent single, never married; 6 percent married; 44 percent have been in families before.
Race: 68 percent African-American; 26 percent white; 4 percent Hispanic.
Average age for adults: 44.
Education: 53 percent high school diploma or GED; 22 percent some college; 9 percent college degree.
Veterans: 18 percent.
Have served time in jail or prison: 73 percent (43 percent jail; 8 percent prison; 22 percent both).