In attempts to showcase their efforts to address homelessness in the city of Richmond, the Board of Commissioners heard from several presenters who deal directly with the suffering population in the city.
At the Richmond Commission meeting on Tuesday night, Mayor Robert Blythe said several weeks ago, a citizen spoke during public comment at the chambers and wanted to see more from the city in terms of addressing the issue of homelessness.
“There was a citizen who came because — if I may quote this as accurately as possible — ‘That nothing was being done to help the homeless and the hungry of Richmond.’ Well, I knew that was not the case,” Blythe said.
That citizen was Jeff Alcorn, a pastor of a food ministry. Alcorn works with his wife, Billie, downtown to give food to anyone who needs it.
According to the city’s meeting minutes from July 27, Alcorn asked the city for help with feeding assistance with the homeless, and demanded the city do more to help the population.
At that time, he was asked by Commissioner Krystin Arnold to “write a formal request with his vision of his program and how the community can better assist the program.”
City Manager Rob Minerich stated there were several initiatives the city was involved with to specifically serve those experiencing homelessness and hunger including Room in the Inn, Charity Tracker, and other programs.
On Tuesday night, they heard from the leaders of those programs.
Mandy Agee, Director of the Community Tracker program was present at the most recent meeting to share updates, and what the program does to help the homeless.
The program sponsored by the city is a tracking system available to nonprofits with a client database updated in real time of services they have been assisted with from certain programs.
More than 27,365 clients are programmed in the system using the 63 different agencies that are a part of Community Tracker.
According to Agee, the tracker system is a way of making sure all resources are divided equally to serve the most number of people in the system.
“COVID brought it home to us how important things like a charity tracker have become,” she said. “....This program is about making sure that we are not assisting just the same few people, but making sure we are offering it to all people that need it who may not have access to or known about it before.”
Another new addition to the Charity Tracker program will be the creation and implementation of a working directory for Madison County — and all the services it offers to serve the homeless, or those in need of other services.
“This is a hard thing to do,” she admitted. “There are people who come up with paper directories that say the services that are available, where they are and when they are open. But, things update and change so quickly, we can’t email and print fast enough to stay up to date.”
This directory will be linked to Charity Tracker so every agency and their information will pour into one directory called, GoDirect. This service will be available to the public, and anyone looking for assistance in the area.
“So say you need housing, or bedding, GoDirect will connect you to those services, tell you what you need to bring when you get there, when they are open, and a Google map for location.
While the program is not yet available, the Charity Tracker program will receive grant funds that will be used to build the program, and advertise it.
“I can’t tell you what a tool and asset this is going to be,” she said. “... We spend half of our morning getting calls from people asking where they can get a gas voucher, housing, bedding, and if we are having to look through papers and different sites, that is not very efficient.”
City Manager Rob Minerich agreed.
“I think one of the most important parts of helping people is getting the information out and having a tool like (GoDirect) they can access and find out where help is because there are so many resources in our community to help people with so many different things,” he said. “The collaboration to bring this together, I think, is just going to be a wonderful tool.”
In addition to Agee, the group also heard from Kelsey Dills, the director of the drop-in center on Gibson Lane in Richmond.
This center is operated by New Vista, formerly Bluegrass.org, all groups who focus on behavioral health, mental illness and addiction issues in adults.
Dills stated the drop in center is a place where those adults suffering from any substance abuse disorder or mental health disorder find support and resources “that can help them thrive while being in a caring environment.
“We give them a place to get showers, snacks, and do some case management,” explained Dills. “We have a lot of donations as we are donation-based so we have clothing to give, access to computers where we can sign them up for food or different assistance.”
She said housing is limited, but the drop-in center is often used as a place for those to get out of the cold, and rain. In addition, if those individuals are in need or interested in treatments, Dills stated she can have someone in treatment in 24 hours.
The drop-in center is located at 403 Gibson Lane, and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon, and 1 p.m. to 4.
There were no questions from the board of commissioners following either presentation.
Later in the meeting, the city also accepted an order which will earmark $50,000 of federal funds granted to them for the Room in the Inn program. This program runs each winter and helps provide shelter for the homeless during that time.
“For the second consecutive year the city of Richmond has made available $50,000 to support the Room in the Inn program which provides overnight shelter for the homeless,” Minerich told The Register. “We want to thank these volunteers for their dedication in making every effort to provide shelter for these folks during the winter months. The community has also stepped up to provide meals, clothes and toiletries.”