10 places you might encounter homeless in Richmond

Monroe Park

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 PlazaKanawha 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).

For more: www.homewardva.org.  Also, see the Daily Planet website for a list of local resources.


10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Johanna on November 26, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Instead of worrying about your poor kids learning about the walk way “rules”, why not teach them COMPASSION and explain to them that people should not be sleeping outdoors. You are a pompous, removed, disconnected, self-righteous, self-serving idiot.


  2. Posted by Aeronius D. McCoy on October 23, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    You’d be best off to just ignore the less fortunate, rather than judge them.


  3. Posted by Brian on October 14, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    If the granite water feature in the park is supposed to mimic the James River, it only seems appropriate that the homeless would urinate in it. Such an act would even glorify the James. Be a little more sensitive to what you couldn’t even come close to understanding. Instead of viewing them as the metro’s menace, exude your crippled Christian ability and try to help them instead of assuming the worst. God forbid you’re ever put in their position and truly see how and why they have to live the way they do. It is not our responsibility to worry what is done with what money we can give to them -that is their walk with God- but that we give in the first place. “If a man asks you of your coat, give him your shirt as well.”

    God Bless.


  4. The first portion of this asks about how to be sympathetic. What follows is different. “Littred with humans with no better place to bed down…”

    Try walking in someone else’s shoes. Leave your job and try to get by. Bang your head and live with a diminished capacity.

    Or simply just say “I do not believe in helping others” and then stop pretending that sympathy is a part of your repertoire.

    But at least try to learn to walk in the shoes of others.


  5. Posted by RICHMOND EARTH FIRST on November 3, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    You’re a MOTHERFUCKER. I hope I see you on the trails, I will knock your fat yuppie ass to the ground.


  6. Posted by mary anne on October 28, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Why hasn’t anyone asked why Richmond has so many homeless adults in the first place? Has anyone wondered if the shelters are adequate? accessible? etc?

    From what I understand the homeless deserve decent shelter but must sleep on cots that are set up in local churches around town in the cold months. To access shelter the homeless must meet buses at a pick up location by a designated time and are driven to that evening’s temporary church shelter. They are then woken up very early the next morning and returned to the bus pick-up site where they are left in the cold for the rest of the day.

    This isn’t good enough when so many other cities have shown Richmond how to effectively and efficiently shelter homeless adults while addressing their mental, physical, economic and social issues that led them to become homeless. Richmond doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to fighting issues like homelessness. There are plenty of good examples for our city to follow if the problems are something the city really wants to solve.

    I am not convinced they want a solution when it is clear they are doing their best to drive the homeless out of Monroe park where they will be out-of-sight.


  7. I don’t have any solutions — just a couple of random comments…

    **There’s one guy that spends a lot of time under the 95 overpass over Bellevue as you go into Bryan Park. He always seems friendly — I always wave. I’ve seen people stop and talk to him.

    I startled a different guy the other day at Bryan Park — I rode the bike into one of the shelters(#2) because I had never been inside one and wanted to see what was in there. And there was a guy sitting inside, lol! It startled me too!

    **I have seen long term tents on Belle Isle too — up on top of the hill.

    **The people who are self-sufficient don’t seem threatening to me. And the people who ask for money are not anywhere near as aggressive here as they are in other places, like Atlanta.

    In Atlanta, they will follow you to find out what they can do to earn the dollar they’re asking for (maybe show you where you’re going, something like that).


    • Bart, the guy at Bryan Park on Bellevue cracks me up. I have talked with him too and he’s crazy in love with freedom. I don’t worry about him. It’s the people that I would see DAILY with the same story about needing money to buy a ticket for their kid…and those people would be wasted, high, Jonesing…I can’t be a party to that.


  8. Some of Richmonds great destinations, really sad.

    Monroe Park and the Politics of Homelessness


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