Take a look at the first installment of a new series written by local journalism students as they explore homeless in our hometown.
Editor’s note: The following feature is the first in a seven-part series on homelessness in Richmond written by students taking part in “Reporting for Print and Web,” an undergraduate journalism course led by by Jeff South, Associate Professor at VCU’s School of Mass Communications. Check back weekly for future installments.
With the recession affecting everyday lives, more individuals and families are becoming homeless. Recent surveys have shown an increase in the number of people finding themselves without homes in the past year.
In Richmond, the number of homeless people rose 7 percent last year, with the downturn in the economy playing a crucial role, experts say.
According to the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, the recent economic troubles will lead to an estimated 2,100 Virginians to be homeless in the next two years. The coalition holds workshops and events to reduce homelessness by using community collaboration, capacity building, education and advocacy.
“It is highly expected that the economic downturn will result in more people, including families with young children, experiencing homelessness because of high unemployment rates and other hardships,” said Phyllis Chamberlain, the coalition’s executive director.
Homeward is a nonprofit organization that coordinates services for the homeless in the Richmond area. The group conducts an annual census and survey of homeless people in the region. The census counts the number of homeless people in five categories: individuals and families, chronic homelessness, ex-offenders, foster care and veterans.
Individuals and Families
Homeward’s most recent census, in January, recorded 1,014 homeless adults and 136 homeless children. The number of homeless children had decreased from the previous year. However, many officials expect an increase in homeless children as more parents suffer layoffs and other financial troubles.
“I see more and more people around, a little here and there, some of them looking real young,” said Joanne Hendrickson, a homeless woman in Richmond.
In March, Homeward issued an analysis of the homeless statistics. It said there was an 11 percent increase in homeless people who are unsheltered. The report also said that the demand for emergency shelter increased by 26 percent.
“More and more homeless shelters report significant increases in the number of people seeking assistance,” Chamberlain said.
The main cause of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing. About 13 percent of Virginians spend more than half their income on housing, according to the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness. It says that to afford a two-bed room apartment, you must earn more than $18 an hour – about $38,000 annually. The minimum hourly wage in the United States will rise to $7.25 on July.
“Being able to afford a place of my own is so hard but a dream of mine … one day,” Hendrickson said.
Here are other key statistics from the most recent snapshot of homeless people in Richmond:
Total homeless population: 1,150 (1,014 adults and 136 children)
Adults with children: 11 percent
Unsheltered individuals: 16 percent
Gender: 74 percent male; 26 percent female
Family status: 56 percent single, never married; 6 percent married; 44 percent have been in families before
Race: 68 percent African American; 26 percent white; 4 percent Hispanic
Average age for adults: 44 years old
Education: 53 percent high school diploma or GED; 22 percent some college; 9 percent college degree
Veterans: 18 percent
Have served time in jail or prison: 73 percent (43 percent jail; 8 percent prison; 22 percent both)
Have been the victims of domestic violence: 26 percent (Of the victims, 9 percent experienced domestic violence in the past month and 36 percent in the past year.)
Have had alcohol problems: 46 percent (Of those respondents, 78 percent are currently recovered.)
Have had substance abuse problems: 52 percent (Of those respondents, 77 percent are currently recovered.)
Have had mental health problems: 31 percent (Of those respondents, 70 percent are being treated, and 64 percent are taking medicine.)
Have long-term disabilities: 27 percent
Are employed: 25 percent (Of that group, 41 percent work full time; 32 percent work part time; and 26 percent do labor or temp work.)
Where they lived before becoming homeless: 53 percent in Richmond; 9 percent in Henrico County; 7 percent in Chesterfield County; 3 percent in Hanover County; 18 percent elsewhere in Virginia; 10 percent in other states.
All articles and photos featured in this series are being published with the permission of Jeffrey South, Associate Professor, School of Mass Communications, Virginia Commonwealth University.