Harrisonburg plans to purchase 3.72 acres of land for the city’s first permanent low-barrier homeless shelter, according to a Wednesday press release.
Harrisonburg has contracted to purchase the land and a 6,730-square-foot building located at 1111 N. Main St. from Shenandoah Presbytery for $700,000, according to the press release. Additional costs are expected to convert the property into a suitable shelter.
Providing affordable housing for all is one of the main goals of Harrisonburg’s 2039 Vision Plan. Council agreed in November that part of the city’s $23.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds would be used to establish a permanent homeless shelter.
Mayor Deanna Reed said she’s been meeting with a committee of executive directors of homelessness resources organizations in Harrisonburg for two years to assess the community’s needs. A permanent low-barrier shelter was identified as the biggest priority for the group.
Harrisonburg’s current low-barrier shelter is being operated by nonprofit Open Doors and is temporarily located at James Madison University. Ashley Robinson, Open Doors director of operations, said many in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County area are homeless, and about 60 people are housed at the shelter each night.
“It’s a pretty big issue within our community,” Robinson said. “We’re meeting an extreme need in our area.”
Robinson said conversations about homelessness and the need for a permanent shelter have been ongoing between Open Doors and the city.
Michael Parks, city spokesperson, said the facility is projected to open in late 2023, with Open Doors operating its services. Robinson said a permanent shelter would help Open Doors improve its services while also providing opportunities to get other local organizations involved.
“It’s nice to know that we are in a community where our city officials are engaged and they are also wanting to fix and help the issue of homelessness,” Robinson said.
Reed said the city’s goal is to provide a campus with services and programs to support the homeless population.
Sam Nickels, executive director of Our Community Place, a nonprofit that helps those facing homelessness and adversity, said he’s proud of the community for coordinating so many services for homeless people. He said he’s excited about the permanent shelter that will be put in place — not only because it will temporarily house people, but because it will help provide resources to displaced people that will help them move on from homelessness.
“We have an opportunity now as a community to plan comprehensive homeless services,” Nickels said. “How can we effectively put together those services in a way that really helps folks to move on from homelessness?”
When it comes to the purchase of the property, Reed said she’s heard nothing but positive feedback and support from the community.
“We knew that this is something we needed to do to make this a city for all,” Reed said. “This is going to make the community stronger, healthier and safer.”
Closing on the property purchase will occur in 60 days, according to the press release. Next steps for the project include identifying a timeline for renovating the property, negotiating a lease for shelter operations and developing options for the building’s expansion.