With no emergency shelter, homeless Richmond residents endure ‘horrific’ storms.

RICHMOND, Va. — Homeless people in a Richmond homeless community said it was a “horrible” experience as they were on the streets as powerful storms that knocked out power and caused damage passed through central Virginia Thursday night.

It was brutal. “We go out 24/7 regardless of the weather, but being out in our cars was a safety risk,” said Tracy Byrd Eagles, a volunteer with the nonprofit Blessing Warriors RVA. “The wind was very strong. No human being should be out in this kind of weather.”

Volunteers with Blessing Warriors, which serves the area’s homeless population, said they found about fifty people in downtown Richmond trying to take shelter from the storms.

“They hid under the church awning and (there was) a couple inside the trash cans and the flaps on the trash cans were flapping,” Bird-Eagles said. “The wind was very strong. No human being was supposed to go out in this kind of weather.” “.


Tracy Byrd Eagles, a volunteer with the nonprofit Blessing Warriors RVA, and reporter Tyler Lane.

Michael Dotz, who said he has been homeless in Richmond for the past three years, was out Thursday. He said he was holed up under the church porch, soaking wet, and had nowhere else to go.

“It was horrific. In my 61 years, this is the closest I’ve ever come to seeing lightning bolts, lightning bolts falling,” Dotz said.

He continued: “There was no place open for the public to go.” The homeless have to make do with what they have.”

BirdEagles said the storms highlighted the need for the city of Richmond to establish a 24/7 emergency shelter.

“There should be an emergency shelter for incoming storms. When this radar was introduced, there should have been an automatic protocol, ready to open, ready to go,” Birds-Eagles said. “It is a complete failure.”

Thursday, September 7, 2023 Storms


Thursday, September 7, 2023 Storms

The city operates inclement weather shelters seasonally from November to April in partnership with nonprofit organizations. During other months, the city does not operate overnight shelters, although other regional shelters are available with limited capacity as part of the Greater Richmond Chain of Care.

In 2020, the City Council passed a resolution, which Mayor Stoney’s administration previously said was not required to be followed because it is not an ordinance (city code), which sets guidelines for when the administration must activate a storm weather shelter during other months of the year. Under the resolution, those conditions include temperatures above 92 degrees or when the forecast includes more than an inch of rain or high winds.

Dave Parrish Photography

Dave Parrish Photography

Storms on Thursday, September 7, 2023

Thursday’s storms were moving quickly and did not meet the requirements set forth in the inclement weather resolution, said Petula Birx, a city administration spokeswoman. The public libraries and social services building were open during the day when afternoon temperatures were in the mid-90s to 100 degrees, Burks said. She said the city did not need to open a shelter during the evening as temperatures dropped below 92 degrees.

Members of a Richmond City Council committee asked city administration in July to keep one inclement weather shelter open throughout the summer until November, when seasonal shelters are scheduled to open, for weather emergencies. But Administrative Director Lincoln Saunders rejected that request, saying the city is prioritizing its cooling plants and expanding year-round shelter capacity instead.

This week, Saunders unveiled a new plan that would add 100 beds to the region’s year-round emergency shelter system. The city is proposing to create two new shelter sites, one downtown and one on the North Side, in partnership with nonprofits.

The plan also calls for the creation of a housing resource center, which would serve as a physical entry point into the area’s homeless assistance network. Currently, most homeless people in Central Virginia are brought into the system through a telephone hotline.

Michael Dotz


Michael Dotz

Council members, activists and homeless people have called on the city to take action on year-round shelter for years, but implementation has faced numerous delays and hurdles.

“There’s an expression in the homeless community that says the homeless take better care of the homeless than the city does, and that’s a completely valid truism,” Dotz said.

Dutz said that while he supports the city’s plan, he questions its implementation.

“I believe in the tooth fairies, too. We’ll see if the city pulls it off or not,” Dotz said.

Birks said the city is working hard to provide more resources for the homeless.

“We continually work to stay focused when the weather changes and prioritize life and safety at all times,” Birx said..

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