Posted on August 16, 2011
This blog was written by VSH’s summer PR intern, James Denison
At one point during Richmond Registry Week, I was walking down Chamberlayne Road with a flashlight and a clipboard at the ungodly hour of 4:30 in the morning. Actually, that phrase “ungodly hour” seems ironic to me. It’s as if nothing good happens at that time, as if the only people out and about then are drug dealers, or gang members, or witches. But my team and I were out trying to locate homeless individuals before the sun rose, because they tend to be on the move early too.
We were out as part of the 1000 Homes for 1000 Virginians campaign, seeking to identify the most vulnerable homeless folks in Richmond, and looking for individuals sleeping on the ground or under bridges was a pretty good place to start. So the first thing I learned this week was how early homeless people have to get up. By 6:30 at the latest, they are generally awake and starting their days.
You’d think that folks would be grumpy or hostile about being woken up by a pack of strangers shining lights and asking questions, right? Well, a couple of people did want to go back to sleep. But for the most part, the individuals we met were perfectly willing to complete the vulnerability surveys, which took about 15 minutes. And to thank them for their cooperation, we made sure they knew where their next meal was coming from by giving out McDonald’s gift cards.
All in all, we surveyed more than 150 folks in three mornings, and about half of them fit the criteria for vulnerability, which was based on a combination of age, repeated homelessness, and chronic physical and mental health problems. Personally, I got to interview one man (I’ll call him Jerry) who was living under a bridge and had previously been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. This means that at one time, he must have done something destructive enough to be classified as an imminent danger to himself or to others.
Previously, I wrote a blog about how overcrowded conditions in mental health facilities had led to hundreds of patients being turned away, which led to many of them becoming homeless. At the time, I thought I understood the issue; I thought I cared about getting these individuals off the streets. And I did. But as I watched Jerry mumble to himself and tell me about spirits and spells, the weight of his situation and the necessity of getting him into supportive housing was made real for me.
As a society, we simply cannot allow individuals like Jerry to be left out on the streets to fend for themselves. Jerry may be mentally ill and homeless, but his life is not worthless. With Richmond Registry Week and many other efforts, VSH is committed to standing alongside folks like Jerry in their hard times. The dream is that one day, Jerry and people like him will be able to spend their ungodly hours in the security of their own homes.
You can help make that dream a reality. To find out how, click here.