- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

So many people are seeking shelter at the Rescue Mission in Roanoke that some are sleeping on the floor.
The Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center in Richmond is turning away about 35 people a week, and its counterpart in Virginia Beach has been full since August long before the wintry months that are usually its busiest.
Homeless shelters across the state are reporting a noticeable spike in numbers over the past several months, and some are linking the increase to declining economic conditions, rather than the usual reason: cold weather.
"This year is different because it's so early and there are so many new faces we've never seen before," said Joy Sylvester-Johnson, executive director of Roanoke's Rescue Mission. "If I were to describe them, I would say they're young, they're old and they're sick."
Rescue Mission has 223 beds, which Miss Sylvester-Johnson said are filled almost nightly. Its alcohol and drug recovery program is also at capacity, with a 17-person waiting list.
Miss Sylvester-Johnson said space began to get tight at the beginning of October, about two months ahead of the norm.
With the shelter's decreasing donations, she called the situation "dire."
Shelter occupancy is running about 90 percent in the Richmond area, according to Lt. Col. Danny Morrow, area commander for the Salvation Army.
The bigger worry may be falling revenue, which Col. Morrow said is down about 37 percent from last year.
"We're cutting all the costs we can and so far haven't had to reduce services," he said. "Eventually we may have to face that as the next option."
Hampton Roads also is experiencing overcrowded conditions. A group called Link of Hampton Roads, which shelters people at churches in the Newport News-Hampton area, said it's expecting up to 100 people a night this winter, more than 20 over its capacity.
"We're definitely seeing women and children sooner in the year," said Lynne Finding, executive director of Link. "Our phones have bombarded with calls from people needing assistance, or people getting evicted."
Miss Finding said she also attributes the increase to bad economic times, as well as the recent closure of two area shelters.
"We're finding the usual transients from the north and south coming in for work, and there just isn't any here," she said.
It is not clear whether the overall number of homeless people has increased in Virginia, as reliable data are difficult to attain.
But Charles Ingram, spokesman for the state Department of Social Services, said there hasn't been a noticeable shift in welfare rolls this September compared with a year earlier.
He said it's also common to see a modest spike in social service requests in the fall when people begin thinking about the coming winter.
Homelessness is on the rise in other parts of the country.
In New York City, for instance, the Coalition for the Homeless estimates that homelessness is at an all-time high, with 36,000 people staying in city shelters each night.
The number of homeless in Richmond is much lower by comparison about 1,600 are in shelters on any given night, according to a group called Homeward, which coordinates homeless services in the area.
Marc Leslie, a research and data analyst at Homeward, said Virginia may get an accurate homeless tally on Jan. 24 when shelters across the state do what is called a "point in time" count.
On that night, shelters will calculate how many people they have in temporary and permanent housing, and how many they turn away.
Mr. Leslie said it's the first year all state localities will be doing the count on the same night.


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