Originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 61, printed February 17. Reproduced here in for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Winter 2020 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
Back in 1859, a guy named Charles Dickens wrote a book called “A Tale of Two Cities.” That would make a good title for a book about Richmond.
On the one hand, we have RVA: young, hip, vibrant, artsy and doing pretty well for itself.
On the other, we have Richmond, where one out of every five people is poor, where misery swirls around people’s ankles like a flooded campground and which, for the most part, is invisible.
And then something unusual happens, and what was invisible bursts into view.
The truly courageous women and men who have taken up residence in the tent city called Cathy’s Camp have exposed the ugly truth that deliberate housing policies have resulted in a 10 percent increase in homelessness over the past year. And their refusal to be cowed by the City’s eviction notice, along with the resulting mass outpouring of support from their housed sisters and brothers has created a political crisis for the City.
One frightening day in January, a terrible storm hit the Richmond area. Rain was pouring down in sheets, winds were more than 50 miles an hour and tents at Cathy’s Camp were being blown away.
And yet the city’s “hypothermia” shelter, just yards from the tent city, was locked shut.
Why? Because the temperature hadn’t dropped below the magic number of 40 degrees.
(The trigger temp for opening the shelter used to be 32, until some years ago when the activist group Richmond Food Not Bombs raised hell and embarrassed the city into raising it to 40.)
We believe city officials when they say they care about homeless people. Some of them have spent their entire lives trying to help.
But we also believe that the wealthy 1 percent that runs this town would very much like the 21.9 percent who live in poverty to just leave. And they’re willing to let the misery increase until it convinces the poor to do just that.
Please take the time to read all the stories in this issue of the Defender dealing with the question, “Is there a Master Plan to remove the poor from Richmond?” You may learn something about how this city really works.
And whether you are part of Richmond or RVA, a basic sense of humanity should inspire you to get involved.
Like the old Union slogan put it, “An Injury to One is an Injury to All!”