Williamsburg's Homeless & Indigent

P.O. Box 366, Lightfoot, VA 23090
Office: 757-561-3255
"Assisting people in re-gaining hope and a better way of life."

Monday, August 11, 2003

Homeless Leader Loses Shelter Site and Home

Homeless leader loses shelter site and home

By Paul Aron
The Virginia Gazette

Published August 9, 2003

JAMES CITY -- Eastern State Hospital has quashed plans for a homeless shelter there, citing “significant risk” to patient safety. Meanwhile, Patti McKenzie, the point person for the shelter, also finds herself in need of a new home.

The shelter has become a lightning rod this summer for advocates who have pleaded for compassion and critics skeptical of the need.

McKenzie learned Wednesday that the Eastern State plan was dead. The next day she received a notice from her landlord that her own lease would not be renewed.

Hospital director John Favret sent a letter to McKenzie arguing that “having the 80 to 100 homeless people you plan on housing here would present significant risk to the safety of our patients, in my opinion.”

Favret also noted that the county Comprehensive Plan does not call for a homeless shelter, and that “we would not proceed with a project that would not conform to that plan.”

McKenzie had hoped to convert Building 27 into a shelter. It's vacant but used for fire department training. Favret's rejection letter was dated July 31, but McKenzie only learned the news this week, and then from county officials during a meeting.

She annoyed several county officials by taking unannounced several formerly homeless people with her to the meeting. The county expected a discussion on zoning issues, not a public forum.

One woman complained that she had been to Social Services, the county housing office, the United Way and the Salvation Army, but she was told she didn't qualify for help.

Officials stress that James City, York and Williamsburg have a variety of programs to prevent homelessness, and that agencies regularly house temporarily homeless people in local motels. There's no official count of how many homeless are in the area, but most experts estimate only a handful at any given time.

County officials have also criticized McKenzie for refusing to provide information about how she would operate and pay for a shelter. Privately, some have questioned whether she is qualified to run a shelter.

Local officials worry privately that as word of a shelter circulated in the region, it would attract homeless people who might otherwise not come.

McKenzie said she would keep looking for a site, adding that the publicity about Eastern State had “at least created an awareness that there is a need within the regional areas and homelessness does exist.”

She's now looking at land and motels for sale in York and James City.

As of Sept. 30, McKenzie and her husband, Geoffrey, also have to find a new place for themselves. Their landlords, Andy and Charlene Talcott, have given them notice that they would not renew their lease.

The McKenzies have drawn criticism from neighbors in Sycamore Landing, a secluded community at the end of Croaker Road, for providing temporary housing there for some homeless people.

McKenzie said she was prepared to move but will remain in the area. “We do not regret any of the times we have helped somebody have a hot meal, a bed to sleep in or a place for fellowship and rest,” she said. “We don't feel the need to be concerned that we may not find another home because God never closes one door without opening another.”

The McKenzies, who are affiliated with a South Carolina ministry known as Church Builders, moved here last fall.


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