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."

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

City Shuts Down Area Homeless Shelter
Ross Gilbert, DogStreetJournal Staff Reporter

A couple operating a homeless shelter out of their home in Lightfoot was shut down by York County's Code and Compliance Department on November 24th. The reasons, according to the York County inspectors, were that the facilities being used to house people were not fit for human habitation and did not meet the appropriate zoning requirements.

Patti McKenzie and her husband had been running what she calls an "underground safe haven" for homeless people in Williamsburg and throughout York County since Sept. of 2003 (This is a correction. Our ministry has been in effect since March 2002.) The homeless people she housed were referred to her by various agencies over the last year and a half, among which were the United Way, Salvation Army, Colonial Service Board, and various churches.

The McKenzies not only housed but also provided programs to help the people staying there get back on their feet.

"We try to operate as a family. We've found that what the homeless want most is to feel cared for, and to feel worthy. We ran classes for the people here called 'Stepping Stones' that we hoped would help people work through the issues they were dealing with. We also held weekly prayer meetings and Bible studies, and received a lot of assistance, financially and emotionally, from the Williamsburg Methodist Church community," Ms. McKenzie said.

At the time the shelter was shut down, about 15 people were staying on the McKenzies' property. Where they are now and where they can go is a serious problem for the entire York and James County areas, as there are no officially run or managed homeless shelters in the area. The McKenzies were the only people operating such a facility.

Mary Anne Harris of the York County Code and Compliance office stressed that while McKenzies' intentions were admirable, safety is a major issue when running such an organization.

"There is nothing wrong with what she is trying to do, but the fact is you need a safe environment. You can't have people living in storage facilities. If there had been a fire in there and a dozen people had died, this would all be a very different story," said Harris.

The issue of the homeless in Williamsburg is of major concern to many students at the College. Several students have volunteered their time at the shelter over the last year, notably junior Hadyn Rickett. Rickett was the campus liaison for the shelter until it was closed, and helped to raise awareness among students of the area's homeless problems. She also organzied activities and raised funds for the shelter through the Hunger Awareness Taskforce. She was not surprised to learn that the shelter had been shut down.

"Except for a few very caring individuals and organizations, Patti and her vision have met with resistance since she arrived here," said Rickett. "Based on my research it was obvious that Williamsburg had a problem with the ignored poor and homeless who were falling through the bureaucratic cracks. We've been working together for two years now and I've seen first hand the good that she is accomplishing for this community."

The McKenzies are currently continuing their efforts to create a shelter, but until the funds can be acquired to purchase appropriate zoning land and build, the homeless question in Williamsburg remains in limbo.


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