The local media has noted the rise in homelessness due to the recession. Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms has stated he doesn't believe we can close the Winter Shelter program next Spring. Taking the bus to and from this evening's Comprehensive Plan meeting, I got to see the problem firsthand.
Four stops down the line from where I boarded, a homeless man got on the bus. He started asking the Operator about one program. It turned out much of the information he had been given before boarding was wrong, so I tried to help him. He sat in a seat near mine so we could talk easily. As we approached the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center (JCOC), I pointed out his stop to him and gave him a final briefing. It turned out that another man within earshot was homeless, had slept in the Winter Shelter program last night, and was heading back. The first man followed him off the bus. My reward for the day was the look he gave me as he disembarked.
It got worse. I caught the bus home at the Oceanfront Library stop. There were three women there who had been turned away by Winter Shelter because all the slots for tonight were full. At the JCOC stop, another woman boarded who appeared to be homeless. Later a couple Hardee's employees joined us who were heading home from work for the night, bringing chicken with them. They gave the one woman sitting adjacent to them a couple pieces of chicken. One of the original trio got off the bus in the Oceana area. The other three were still onboard when we reached my home stop; I have no idea where they were going for the night.
For those unfamiliar, Virginia Beach has two homeless shelter programs. The JCOC is a year-round program with it's own buildings in the Seatack neighborhood. Winter Shelter is administered by the Volunteers of America, but doesn't operate during the Summer months. Winter Shelter is hosted by a different church each week, with the homeless provided a mat to sleep on in the church. They are fed before being sent out for the day; in my previous parish, the Knights of Columbus cooked them breakfast. Evening pickup is at the JCOC after the free dinner there, with transportation provided to the church for the night.
A writer in Port Folio (back when they had the print edition) once commented that the cities in our region are in a competition to cut services for the needy, to try to drive their poor into the neighboring cities. The regional nature of the homeless issue wasn't lost on me tonight: the bus those three women were on was going to cross the line into Norfolk in a few minutes. Hampton Roads, we have a problem.