A plan to increase emergency shelter capacity at locations in Northside and downtown passed Richmond City Council this week, over the objections of Chamberlayne Avenue-area businesses that are looking to file an injunction to stop it.
Council unanimously approved several items Monday that establish this year’s inclement weather shelter (IWS) at the Salvation Army headquarters at 1900 Chamberlayne Avenue, and year-round beds at that location and at the former HI Richmond Hostel building at 7 N. Second St.
The approvals are first steps in what councilmembers have described as a larger, long-term plan to increase capacity across the city with potentially a shelter in each of its nine magisterial districts. A third location is in the works at 10 E. Belt Blvd in the Southside.
The plan includes establishing a housing crisis center at the Chamberlayne facility, which will be operated by Salvation Army and serve as a point of entry for people to seek homelessness services through the regional Greater Richmond Continuum of Care services network. The location served as the city’s IWS last year, but under a different operator.
The arrangement adds 100 beds to the roughly 50 that Salvation Army already offers there. It also will see the city provide $7 million toward the nonprofit’s planned $15 million rehab to turn the building into its planned Center of Hope.
Funding assistance would also be provided to homeless services group HomeAgain, which would operate the 50-bed shelter planned at the Second Street hostel building.
Businesses and property owners around the Salvation Army site have maintained that the plan to increase capacity there was not shared with them before they learned about it from a report in BizSense in October. At Monday’s meeting, many reiterated their frustrations.
“We have unfortunately just learned of this ordinance a couple of weeks ago, so the process here is new and there’s not one single member in our association who agrees with this ordinance,” said Dave Kohler, president of the Chamberlayne Industrial Center Association, which he said represents 100 businesses in the area that employ 1,000 people.
In his remarks to council, Kohler noted the city’s investment nearly a decade ago to develop the VUU/Chamberlayne Neighborhood Plan, which envisioned the area within and around the Chamberlayne, Lombardy Street and Brook Road crossroads as a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use community.
“There were high hopes. We started seeing a lot of people coming over from the outpriced Scott’s Addition, so we had positive development,” he said.
“It’s not that we’re against homeless; all we want is to have the community involved in this,” Kohler said. “Unfortunately, it was kind of hidden, covert, so where is our voice? We feel slighted. Half of our constituents have basically given up because of a lack of trust.”
At a committee meeting last week, Kohler told councilmembers that if the plan went forward, the association would file an injunction to stop it, having retained Kutak Rock attorney Jeremy Williams. On Wednesday, a representative confirmed to BizSense that the association is pursuing legal action.
Business owners have maintained that they weren’t properly notified of the plan, adding that the increase in capacity is twice the amount of beds that they had pushed back against when Salvation Army sought a special-use permit for more beds when it moved its HQ from downtown in 2020. City leaders have said the plan has been presented at public meetings and that time is of the essence to establish the ICW by Dec. 1, with colder temperatures arriving.
Council approved the plan as part of the meeting’s consent agenda, typically reserved for routine and non-controversial business that is voted on as a block. Ann-Frances Lambert, whose Third District includes the Chamberlayne site, said she’d asked that the shelter items be moved to the regular agenda in light of the opposition, but was voted down in council’s informal meeting earlier that day.
When she asked again to move the items, Council President Michael Jones called for order and told Lambert that her colleagues had agreed to keep the matter on the consent agenda.
“I need to know some of these answers so, that way, our businesses can feel at ease,” Lambert said. “These questions have not been answered. I said to administration that a lot of these questions need to be addressed before Monday, and they still haven’t been.
“We have to make this work. We have to work together on this,” she said. “If this is going to come, we want this to be the model for other districts. But at the end of the day, we need to make sure we have a lot of the parameters in place.”
Traci Deshazor, a deputy chief administrative officer over the human services department, told council that the city was addressing stated concerns with standard operating procedures for the Chamberlayne shelter, working with the public works and police departments to address litter and security, and establishing a liaison for the city and Salvation Army to communicate with businesses.
Police Chief Rick Edwards added that his department would make regular visits to the facility, receive weekly updates from the nearby Fourth Precinct and place cameras and mobile light trailers as needed.
“It’s been made abundantly clear to me that this is a priority for the city, therefore it’s a priority for the Richmond Police Department,” Edwards said. “The Chamberlayne Industrial Center has several challenges with property crime at this time. That is something that we will be focusing on.
Adding that the department can improve documentation of trespassers on private properties, Edwards added, “It’s just a matter of our focus to understand that this is a priority, and we intend to assist to make it successful.”
Following the presentations, Councilmember Stephanie Lynch, who works for the Virginia Department of Social Services, stressed the amount of time and energy put into the plan and took issue with arguments that it was being forced on constituents.
Stating that the city had been working for years on a long-term shelter solution, since the closure of the Commonwealth Catholic Charities location in 2020 that served as the previous point of entry, Lynch said, “This was not a fly-by-night plan. This was two years in the making of playing human Tetris with human lives trying to find a location that would take these individuals in their backyard.”
Noting that she offered two locations in her district that ended up not working out long-term, Lynch continued, “We are here today, thankfully, because the administration kept on going back to the drawing board, not doing back-door deals but being very open about who wanted to participate, who is a high-quality provider that wanted to offer these wraparound services and this inclement weather shelter to our unhoused individuals. They did not give up, and we thank you for that.
“In this journey, we have been put under scrutiny not only from our other members of the community, the business community, but even our own nonprofit partners who called our plan wildly inadequate and misinformed. But we have stuck by that plan and we continue to stick by that plan,” she said.
“This is about building capacity, it’s about sending a very clear message to our people of Richmond that you have not been forgotten, that even just because you don’t have a district or you’ve been evicted, we still represent you,” Lynch said.