The need for food and shelter grows for city’s homeless

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 6/1/2023, 6 p.m.
“The need has tripled,” Rhonda Sneed said. “More and more people are experiencing a crisis at this time, and so …

“The need has tripled,” Rhonda Sneed said. “More and more people are experiencing a crisis at this time, and so many with food insecurity. I am seeing more people seeking some form of nourishment from a trash receptacle.”

Ms. Sneed should know. As the co-founder and unpaid leader of Blessing Warriors RVA, she and volunteer members are out 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, bringing food, clothing and other assistance to those sheltering in cars and vans, hotels, beneath bridges and in the woods.

It’s unknown how many people are facing the dire situation of being unsheltered in Richmond. Estimates range from 600 to 1,200 people, a fraction of the 230,000 people who live in the city and the more than 1 million people residing in the Metropolitan Richmond area. Other local nonprofits provide more than 250 shelter beds along with food, counseling and other resources, but demand exceeds supply as rising rents and mortgage costs leave more people unable to afford a roof over their head. Churches and other organizations also serve meals but mostly require those in need to come to them while Ms. Sneed delivers.

Many who struggle have to share space with relatives or friends. The rest fend for themselves. That includes 28 families with 62 children who were then on the street, Fifth District City

Councilwoman Stephanie A. Lynch reported earlier in May. Ms. Sneed has advocated for a city funded a year-round shelter where people could receive food and additional resources. At this point, the city only supports additional shelter beds during the winter or during adverse weather conditions, such as a tropical storm. An Air Force veteran and former postal worker, Ms. Sneed and members of her team such as Traci Byrd-Eagles know virtually every corner of the city where the homeless can be found to receive the food they have brought.

Ms. Sneed is grateful for food donations that companies and individuals provide and for those such as Debi Wallace-Ferguson who prepare the food that is donated or that members of Blessing Warriors pay for. The organization does not receive any city, state or federal financial support.

The willingness of residents to participate in Ms. Sneed’s crusade to aid the homeless has enabled the faith-based Blessing Warriors to create teams of volunteers who take on a task, such as hard-boiling eggs, cooking hot meals or making soup.

But Ms. Sneed worries about the growing food demand she sees as her group marks its 11th year of service.

In years past, she said that “60 sandwiches, 60 boiled eggs and two coolers of soup” were enough.

No longer, she reports.

Ms. Sneed listed the food items that the Blessing Warriors team distributed May 26: “60 ham-and-cheese sandwiches; 60 boiled eggs; 20 quart-sized bags filled with sliced ham and 20 packages of crackers; a turkey pan filled with macaroni and cheese; two coolers full of Navy beans; 30 pork barbecue sandwiches; 60 sausage biscuits with mushroom gravy; donuts; 10 pounds of pork barbecue and large pan of chicken barbecue; apples and oranges; candy bars; water.”

Ms. Sneed said all of that provided one meal to those they delivered to and “the last two people were only able to get two biscuits and gravy.”

She said she seeks to serve at seven major locations and other smaller ones, but often finds the food runs out after three locations. In making her rounds, she said she “feels the pain of those who are suffering” and is disappointed she cannot do more.

That includes a family of 10 she came across sleeping in a vehicle to whom she provided a meal.

She said she gets phone calls, too, such as this one from a woman who told her, “I’m so hungry, I feel like I’m starving to death. I just need food for my babies.”

Another caller told her, “I was evicted yesterday, and as a 79-year-old, I can’t get a job,” while a 70-year-old woman who now lives in the woods called to ask for cream to soothe the insect bites she endures from sleeping outside.

Ms. Sneed also reported getting a call from “a young man begging for a sleeping bag for his pregnant wife so she wouldn’t have to lay on the cold ground.” She was able to comply.

“Mom looks so tired; dad looks exhausted and worried,” Ms. Sneed said. “Pray for this family and that this “City of Compassion opens a shelter soon.”