Tea Time with Tagwa: This season, treat the houseless with kindness

Illustration by Skyler Kaczmarczyk

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

Tea timers, my favorite time of year is here. The crisp, cool weather mixed with the smells of brown sugar and sweetness — the fall time brings so much joy to my heart. 

I roam VCU’s campus with a sense of calmness as the leaves fall and the warm orange colors flood my eyes. This season is full of exciting activities and cozy times, but every year I realize that this season is missing one essential trait — kindness.

Many of us enjoy this time of year from the comfort of our homes. We revel at the gray skies and colorful trees as we snuggle comfortably on our couches, drinking warm beverages and appreciating the glory of our heaters. However, we tend to overlook the reality that there are people on the streets struggling this season.

The houseless population in Richmond has been ignored and dismissed for too long. When I first came to VCU, it didn’t take long for me to notice the extensive houselessness presence in the area. While houselessness exists everywhere, Richmond is plagued with it.

In fact, the houseless population in Richmond has increased 53% from 2020, according to an article by CBS6. Read that number again. In the span of a year, the number of houseless people in this city nearly doubled.

To not see the deep-rooted issue in this is a disrespectful and selective choice. There are people on our very streets that don’t know where they will be putting their head down at night. It’s heartbreaking to become aware of my privilege as I type this story from the comfort of my heated home.

The city of Richmond has done poorly in trying to aid the houseless community. Earlier this year in April, the Salvation Army of Central Virginia sought to relocate their central office to Chamberlayne Avenue. The move was contested by Richmond City Council Vice President Chris Hilbert. Hilbert argued that the move would negatively impact the area as they progress to clean up. 

“We saw some positive things happening on Chamberlayne Avenue, but recently we’ve had a spike in drug activity as well as prostitution,” Hilbert said.

The stigmatization of houselessness somehow attracting crime is repulsive. Hilbert’s perpetuation of such a notion is proof that this city has no regard for the human life of our houseless population.

To insinuate — or in Hilbert’s case, actually say — that those less fortunate than us are instigators of crime is preposterous and absolutely inhumane. If Richmond politicians and government figures aren’t interested in assisting these innocent people, who can they rely on? 

Perhaps, instead of concerning ourselves with the potential crime and negativity that comes with houselessness, we should be doing our due diligence to get these folks off the street and into homes to satisfy their basic human rights. 

Homeward — a local organization that collects data on houselessness — stated that in July of this year, roughly 700 people in Richmond were houseless.

Seven hundred people are suffering on the streets of our city. Seven hundred people are freezing without any end in sight. Seven hundred people are wandering the city to find their next home.

This number was reported in July; it’s now November. I can only imagine how much that number has increased. Not to mention, this report may not be 100% accurate because some people might not have reported their housing status. So, that 700 is simply the base number of reality.

Tea timers, I’m coming to you as a friend; please show more kindness to those around you. They are suffering. They are struggling to live their lives without their basic human necessities and the last thing they need is someone turning their nose to them. Remind yourself that just because some people are less fortunate, does not mean they are less human. And that’s the tea.

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