By ASHLYN CAMPBELL Daily News-Record
After roughly five years in the making, the city of Harrisonburg broke ground on its new Homeless Services Center, officially kicking off the construction process for a project aimed to address a need felt throughout the community.
The Homeless Services Center, located at 1111 North Main St., will include a low-barrier emergency shelter for adults with a total capacity of 80 beds and a drop-in center for adults to access resources to support housing access and self-sufficiency, according to the city’s website.
Mayor Deanna Reed said the center will serve as a safe and secure shelter people can turn to and “a physical testament to the love and care that so many in Harrisonburg have for those who are in need.”
“The importance of this center for our community is hard to put into words,” Reed said. “I believe we would get here one day. But I knew it would take all of us to make it happen.”
The planning for the center has been several years in the making, Reed said, with talks concerning a potential shelter starting five years ago with nonprofit leaders. Reed said she asked the city council members at the time for their support, and after coalitions and conversations, eventually, Acting Deputy City Manager Amy Snider led the project.
Most recently, the city selected Nielsen Builders for the project’s construction. The selection followed a delayed project completion date after the first round of bids found complications in the construction process. The project is mostly funded with money from the American Rescue Plan Act, and the opening of the center is planned for Oct. 4, 2024.
“Not only did I put my time and energy on behalf of the city, but a lot of my heart is also in this project,” Snider said. “This project is one that was born out of our community's deep care and concern for unhoused individuals.”
The city is currently accepting proposals until Oct. 27 for operators for the sheltering services. Snider said the city was looking forward to announcing the operator and the ribbon cutting when the center opens.
Three nonprofit leaders who were in those initial conversations with Reed — Ashley Gordon-Becker, who was at Salvation Army at the time; Candy Phillips, the executive director of First Step; and Shannon Porter, the executive director of Mercy House — said seeing the center start to come to fruition was emotional.
With limited options of shelter for those in the community, Phillips said the center was critical to provide safe places for unhoused people.
“It's just really needed,” Phillips said. “And so waiting a year is hard. But I know that we're closer than we were five years ago.”
Porter said the most important part of the project was that it’s going to be more than a building — it will provide resources to get people out of homelessness.
“We're not into warehousing people. We want to change people's lives, change their trajectory and give them a place that they can call home,” Porter said. “A shelter is not a home. It's just a place for the evening. This is going to be a place where we can work with people and get them back to where they need to be.”
Many people in the community came together to make this project work, from nonprofits, community and faith leaders to local colleges, Phillips said. The center and the work to create it, Porter said, was an example of the importance of a community coming together and taking an “honest assessment” of the city.
“That meeting that we had five years ago was because of the fact that there were people suffering — it was a very hot summer,” Porter said. “For our elected officials to come together and prioritize this coming out of a pandemic speaks to that need. As Harrisonburg grows, this is going to be a vital part of making sure that we are a city that is equitable and fair and decent for all people.”
Contact Ashlyn Campbell at 540-574-6278 or firstname.lastname@example.org | Follow Ashlyn on Twitter: @A__Campbell
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