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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Sheltered without a home: Homelessness during the coronavirus

(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Pixabay)
(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Pixabay)

While many people can self isolate in their homes with Netflix and family, there are those who don’t have that luxury.

The homeless population in Hampton Roads and the Peninsula has started to feel the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) as many shelters and resources have become limited.

Williamsburg House of Mercy has been stepping up in various ways to help those impacted by the virus, said Nicole Lancour, its director of communications.

The organization has shifted its focus mainly to providing food to individuals in need through a drive-thru food pantry. According to the organization’s Facebook page, House of Mercy has been breaking records these past few weeks by providing food to more than 1,600 people in eight days.

Lancour said Williamsburg House of Mercy has had to close all of its group and overnight shelters and moved people into emergency housing, part of which has been provided with help from the community.

Wendy Evans, director of Human Services for the city of Williamsburg, said the city and Colonial Williamsburg are working together to provide temporary assistance to those in need. This includes housing individuals in motels and delivering bags of food to local doorsteps.

“It is critical that we provide safe housing and food to our most vulnerable populations during this time,” Evans wrote in an email. “The recommendation for people to stay home or self-quarantine is not an option if someone is experiencing homelessness.”

Rebecca Vinroot, James City County’s director of social services, said  Community Faith Mission has helped play a huge role in providing its winter shelter and resources to people before the shutdown. 

But the organization had already been housing a record number of homeless individuals, said Donnie Hines, executive director. Before it closed on March 22, it was regularly meeting its capacity of 25 people and sometimes going slightly over that number. 

The shelter also started seeing about 25 percent repeat individuals and 75 percent new, which Hines said is unheard of since the shelter began operating in 2012. 

“It turned into our final week and we weren’t able to host the shelter anymore,” Hines said. “So that left us without knowing what we were going to do with the homeless people. These are members of our community who were left exposed.”

Lancour said the homeless population is even more vulnerable because many of them don’t have access to regular health care. She said not only if they get sick will they not have the resources to be treated, but they could potentially not be aware of any underlying existing conditions that would cause complications.

That’s why providing shelter is more important than ever, she said. Sheltering in a hotel helps keep them out of public spaces and provides them with a location to wash their hands or sleep in a clean area.

Hampton and Newport News

Lynne Finding, executive director of LINK of Hampton Roads, said the nonprofit had to close down its PORT Winter Shelter program early due to the diocese’s decision. 

Now, LINK is working with the Four Oaks Day Service Center in Newport News, providing them with meals, clothing, sleeping bags, hygiene kits and portable showers.

She added Quincy White, the executive director of Four Oaks, has been doing street outreach, delivering and dropping off food.

LINK continues to operate its medical respite program for homeless veterans, its transitional housing program and takes referrals for food, serving people outside the nonprofit’s back door.

Finding said they are calling their 105 clients in permanent supportive housing three times a week and delivering food. These particular clients have some sort of disability either physical, mental or substance abuse.

LINK is not accepting donations such as food because of the risk of contamination.

“We’re taking financial donations only,” she said. “Even though the government is working with us to provide the resources, they’re not here yet,”

Matthew Stearn, executive director for Hampton Roads Ecumenical Lodgings and Provisions, said they had to close down their winter shelter, A Night’s Welcome, two weeks earlier due to coronavirus concerns.

He said they really had no way to isolate sick individuals and the church volunteers who serve them fall into the high risk category.

“Everybody is supposed to stay at home so what do you do when you don’t have a home?” Stearn said.

HELP is operating a day center at Buckroe Beach, providing lunches three times a week on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Stearn said he has rented porta-potties so their clients, who used to rely on public buildings for restroom access, have somewhere to use the facilities. 

He said a shower trailer is coming Monday and HELP is working with community partners, including Hampton’s Human Services department, to help clients who are considered high risk find a place to stay such as a short-term hotel or a house with friends.

HELP is also working with the Peninsula Agency on Aging for people who do not qualify for Meals on Wheels and the Hampton City Schools’ Social Work department, he said.

“We’re still accepting donations for our food pantry,” Stearn said, adding HELP now uses a mobile food pantry and they are in need of volunteers to prepare the food. “We can always use folks.”

The mobile food pantry is available to Hampton residents, who can fill out an online application here. People who wish to volunteer to prepare food can call HELP at  or apply here.


Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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