As temperatures fall, Charlottesville-area advocates for the homeless rise to the occasion

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (The Daily Progress) — In January 2017, 115 people were living in temporary shelters in Charlottesville, with 23 living in tents, cars, vans or in the woods, according to the Point In Time count from the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless. There were 50 chronically homeless people and two chronically homeless families.

At two area homeless camps nestled in wooded areas near major intersections, camp residents said they are spending the cold nights with friends, by chipping in money for joint motel rooms or by seeking  shelter beds. They said they return during the day to protect their belongings.

 One said a propane heater for his tent keeps him warm enough to stay at the camp full time. The campers declined to give their names or have their photos taken and asked that their camp locations not be identified.
“It can be hard for the average individual to comprehend, but there are some people who still choose to stay outside, even in this cold,” said Jayson Whitehead, executive director of PACEM.
PACEM is a seasonal shelter operated by People And Congregations Engaged in Ministry, a grassroots organization of 80 congregations that work collaboratively to provide for the homeless.

The shelter is open between October and April when temperatures hit dangerous lows. Those seeking shelter sign up at The Haven.

 “Homeless people often try to take care of other homeless people. It’s not unusual to hear someone say to another homeless person, ‘Hey, you’re going to PACEM tonight, right?’ You often see homeless people looking out for each other,” Whitehead said.

 “At this time of the year, we’re at or near our capacity on the men’s side of the shelter most nights. We’re allowed 45. The women’s shelter numbers are far lower. We had 16 the other night, which is high for us. We usually have about 12,” he said.

Whitehead said last week that he predicted PACEM being at peak occupancy over the weekend and until the daily low temperatures rise.

“The Salvation Army takes our spillover when we’re at capacity,” he said. “They have a ‘warm room’ for us where people can have a warm place to be out of the weather.”

Whitehead said there is no single cause for people being homeless. For some, it’s economics. For others, it could be mental health or substance abuse issues.

“Some people have issues with rules, and others have trouble with a shelter environment with 40 people sleeping on cots. We are a low-barrier shelter, in that we don’t breathalyse or drug test, so we get a lot of those folks who would otherwise probably stay outside,” Whitehead said. “And that’s why we’re here.”

Source: The Daily Progress