- The Washington Times - Friday, January 1, 2010

HAMPTON, Va. | The Rev. Jim Rudisill plans to spend a lot of time sitting on a damp step outside a former armory building in Hampton.

He says homeless people will hold regular prayer meetings and vigils outside the boarded-up building on North King Street until the city takes seriously a request to open it up as a winter day shelter to get people off the streets.

Mr. Rudisill, a homeless campaigner who says he often ends up living on the streets, appealed last month to the City Council for temporary use of the old armory.

City officials say they will enter a dialogue about options for a day shelter, but the condition of the armory means it’s not an appropriate place for a shelter.

“It’s not in the best shape for the purpose that folks are suggesting,” said Assistant City Manager Mary Bunting.

The dilapidated former National Guard Armory has been the subject of a number of regeneration proposals in recent years. It is close to the bus station and woods on North King Street, which Mr. Rudisill says are both hangouts for homeless people.

As the weather gets colder, being homeless in Hampton will increasingly become a matter of life and death in the city’s woodlands and cemeteries, Mr. Rudisill said.

“There is a considerable homeless population that lives under bridges, in the graveyards and in the woods around the city of Hampton. They are often in danger,” he told council members.

But Hampton police spokeswoman Cpl. Allison Quinones said she knows of no cases of homeless people who have died “as a result of the weather” in the city in recent years.

Mr. Rudisill also said ordinary people are losing their jobs and joining the ranks of the homeless.

“Many of them grew up in Hampton, some went to Hampton University. They are residents that have simply lost their jobs, have been evicted from their apartments or houses and their belongings are put on the road,” he said.

Mr. Rudisill spoke of one woman, who graduated from Hampton University with a teaching degree, who drifted into a life of homelessness after losing her job.

Mr. Rudisill said she was fined for being at the bus station near Harbor Square apartments and was picked up again for being at 7-Eleven. The woman was cited for not appearing in court and ended up in the Hampton City Jail, he said.

“She got out of jail and stood on the corner of King Street for three days. She was shaking and cold. There was no place in Hampton where she could go,” he said.

Mr. Rudisill said Monday that the woman had been staying on a mattress at a room the Rudisills rented out at the Messiah Center in Hampton but was evicted last month.

Mr. Rudisill said he and his wife, Mary, have also been asked to leave the Messiah Center and are moving back to the streets.

The homeless activist estimates about 100 homeless people use shelters in Hampton, but as many as another 100 avoid them or are turned away because they are alcoholics or have mental-health problems. He said some mothers would rather sleep on the streets because they are afraid their children would be taken away from them.

The armory was used by the National Guard until 1993. It has been the subject of a number of different proposals but none of them have come to fruition, and the building has intermittently been used as a warehouse.

Ms. Bunting said the city did not believe creating more shelters was a viable solution to homelessness. “It’s generally our belief that the answer to homelessness is not just shelters but to make those connections with work and transportation and to provide a support network,” she said.

Wanda Rogers, Hampton’s director of human services, said the city works with a number of agencies to draw up “long-term plans” to get homeless people off the streets.

“We are able to use homelessness prevention funds of about $170,000 a year. That isn’t a whole lot.”

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