Local organizations serve homeless Richmonders facing cold weather

Students walk around Monroe Park Campus on a snowy day in Richmond. Photo by Enza Marcy

Sagal Ahmed, Contributing Writer 

During Richmond’s recent ice storms, a local medic collective traveled around the city providing resources for its most vulnerable residents.

“We have done what the city has not been able to do,” said River City Medic Collective representative Vanessa Bolin. “My question is why is that? We as just individuals have done these things.”

River City Medic Collective is a Richmond organization that has been actively helping those who are homeless. The group includes doctors, paramedics, EMTs and nurses. All members must have some sort of medical training, Bolin said. 

The organization has spent $11,000 of donations from the Richmond community to provide food and aid to get through the cold weather, Bolin said. More than half of the money went to placing homeless people into hotel rooms.

A team from the River City Medic Collective looked for those who were showing signs of hypothermia during the ice storms over the past two weeks. The team connected those people to the Richmond Community Outreach Initiative, a group that distributes resources and aid to those who are homeless. 

The organization also pays for medications that are needed and connects those who need medical attention to doctors through an appointment or a phone consultation, Bolin said. 

“We check people’s blood pressure, listen to their lungs, dress any wounds and just talk to them.” Bolin said. 

The organization connects those who are homeless with mental health and addiction treatment resources if they are willing, Bolin said. They have been able to help those who use nebulizers — a treatment for asthma that requires electricity hookups — find businesses that allow people to use their power outlets.

“It’s not lip service because I’ve heard this city say they have a homeless team,” said River City Medic Collective representative Vanessa Bolin. “We have not once seen them.”

The group covered the cost for the Richmond Indigenous Society to provide multiple families with wood during power outages caused by the storm.

The River City Medic Collective is different from government-affiliated social programs because it is a “grassroots organization,” Bolin said. The group seeks to connect people with charitable services, such as the Blessing Warriors RVA, Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, Food Not Bombs, Richmond Community Outreach Initiative and Community Roots Garden.

“It’s not lip service because I’ve heard this city say they have a homeless team,” Bolin said. “We have not once seen them.”

Bolin said the group has done what the city hasn’t been able to do with millions of dollars as the group has made phone calls to the mayor’s office, Homeward and the Safety Net Shelter to advocate for those who are homeless in Richmond. 

“The city has got to do better. It has epically failed the most vulnerable population in this city.” Bolin said.

Homeward is another group working to help the homeless in Richmond. It is an operational support organization for the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care, a group of programs, agencies and partners that is mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The organization has expanded operational hours to stay open for 24 hours to help provide shelter for those who are homeless during the cold weather, Homeward’s Director of Development Faith Kallman said. 

Homeward oversees all HUD allocations, which include federal and state allocations that originate from the department’s funds, which are then allocated based on the community. 

Homeward is currently working with its partners on operating the safety net shelter, which has taken the place of the cold weather shelter that Richmond had run before. The cold weather shelter previously provided shelter at Annie Giles Community Resource Center. The cold weather shelter was closed to open the safety net shelter, according to an article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Homeward plans to address an end to homelessness through four areas: rapid rehousing, emergency shelter, coordinated entry and permanent supportive housing. 

“The goal is to get people into permanent housing,” Kallman said. “So, the emergency shelters are really about trying to get people into a system and seeking support around them to get them into permanent housing.”

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