Without places to go, some people sleep in empty buildings

With December’s lowest temperatures forecast for this week, a group of local people who work with Richmond’s population of people without homes are concerned about having warm places for them to stay overnight.

The circumstances of two recent fires has added urgency to their concerns, according to the pastor of a church who often sees people experiencing homelessness right out of his office window at 15th and Main streets.

The Rev. Joseph Seger, pastor of Central United Methodist Church, said that when temperatures get cold, people without shelter sometimes go into an empty building and start a fire to keep from freezing. In one of two fires earlier this month that may have been such cases, a woman was found dead after a fire in an unoccupied Richmond building.

“If we have a really cold night, do we want to continue to have people burn them down?” Seger asks.

Wayne Township Trustee Susan Isaacs said, “We are not wanting anyone to freeze or be in a fire. We are going to have to do something because we are failing with a big F-minus.” She wants to help but the township does not have sufficient funds for providing shelter.

Seger said he is only one of many local people and help agencies concerned about the lack of resources for people experiencing homelessness. He says Point in Time, an annual effort to contact homeless people on the coldest day of the year and connect them to local resources, counted 48 people in January 2022. But he estimates there may be 200 to 300 people without homes in Richmond most nights.

In Richmond, two shelters offer overnight accommodations for homeless people. Between them, they have about two dozen beds and, in emergencies, may be able to offer temporary space for a few more.

Downtown at 1032 E. Main St., Refuge of Hope has 12 beds for women, according to David Eales, pastor of Rock Solid Ministries, which started the shelter. In a pinch, they could accept more by putting up cots or letting people sleep on chairs and couches.

Hope House is a men’s shelter which recently opened a couple blocks away at 121 N. 10th St. Until recently it had been located at the former Richmond State Hospital on the city’s northwest side.

Overnight shelters:

  • Hope House, 121 N. 10th St., Richmond, for men, 765-935-3000
  • Refuge of Hope, 1032 E. Main St., Richmond, for women, 765-962-5099

Cathy C. Williams, a Wayne County Council member, has become involved in trying to create more or larger shelters for homeless people. While she has spoken with a number of people who are sympathetic and agree that something should be done, she has found many obstacles to doing more.

Last winter, Isaacs opened the township trustee’s office in the Martha Dwyer Center, 1417 North A St., and another building at 819 E. Main St., for warming, but no one came. Even if they had, she doesn’t have staff to keep the buildings open at night.

Staffing is a major issue, according to Jon Duke, deputy director of Wayne County Emergency Management Agency.

The EMA has compiled a list of warming stations — four in Richmond and 10 more in volunteer fire departments outside of the city — but they are open in daytime only or if someone calls ahead and arranges for it, Duke said. The EMA compiles the list as a public service, Duke said.

“We can’t tell these people when to open up. Unfortunately, it’s no one’s responsibility to provide shelter,” Duke said. “It’s not the fire department, it’s not the police department, it’s really not anyone.”

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Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.