Open Doors, James Madison University and the city of Harrisonburg have found a solution to the increasingly pressing homelessness issue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Godwin Hall’s gymnasium began housing the homeless overnight on Monday, said Graham Witt, the president of the board for Open Doors.

He said many churches that hosted the rotating shelter backed out since Gov. Ralph Northam’s restrictions to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Last week, shelter was made at Cooks Creek Presbyterian Church and Briery Branch Church of the Brethren, according to Witt.

“At the beginning of this week, we saw the darkness at the end of the tunnel, for lack of better phrase, that we would be without a facility,” Witt said.

In an 8 p.m. interview Monday, he said nearly 40 area homeless residents were being housed at the gym.

“It wasn’t without its challenges, but mountains were moved to get this done and to have us here today,” he said.

An exact timeline has yet to be set for how long the facility will serve as a shelter.

“As the situation progresses with COVID-19 in our community, and as we see how the shelter is working for all the parties involved, we’ll reassess along those lines,” said Michael Parks, the director of communications for the city.

Parks said the city had reached out to JMU to see if it could aid the local homeless population and the university was “eager” to help.

“We could not have been more lucky to find such a great partner,” Parks said.

Mike Davis, executive adviser to JMU President Jonathan Alger, said the university began looking around campus for a suitable place for a shelter last week. That meant a place with accommodations such as showers and sufficient space for social distancing.

“We’re really happy that we could step up and support [Open Doors],” Davis said. “We have the space and they have the need.”

Our Community Place will help Open Doors by providing food for shelter guests, according to Sam Nickels, the executive director at OCP.

“The churches have mostly pulled out [and they’re] not sure if they’re going to be able to provide evening meals like they used to,” Nickels said. “On days they are unable to do that, OCP is committing to come in and provide those hot evening meals.”

The plan is shelter guests will leave Godwin at 7 a.m. and be transported to Our Community Place, where they will be fed breakfast and lunch and, if necessary, dinner, according to Nickels.

In addition to thanking JMU and the city, Witt thanked other local groups that support the homeless population in Harrisonburg, such as the Salvation Army, Mercy House and Our Community Place.

“It’s just impressive what this community can do when we come together for one common task,” Witt said.

Contact Ian Munro at 574-6278 or Follow Ian on Twitter @iamIanMunro

(1) comment


Shame on JMU for putting the dedicated staff on campus at risk for a political stunt. The homeless would be safer in the outdoors but some genius decided to group the all together in a small space. Not very bright!!!

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