This is in response to the recently unnveiled plans for renovations of Monroe Park in Richmond, Virginia, as well as comments about the park from Charles R. Samuels who is the City Councilman for the 2nd district where Monroe Park is located. This is written by a longtime member of the Richmond Food Not Bombs organization, which has been serving a weekly meal in the park for over 16 years.
The Conrad Center at 1400 Oliver Hill Way is an unacceptable location for the centralization of ‘homeless services’. There are multiple reasons as to why this location is unacceptable. The logistical reasons have to do with the difficulty of accessing the Conrad Center. The Conrad Center is in a valley, between two steep hills. This means that for many folks with children, disabilities, etc. the location itself is very difficult if not impossible to reach. The Conrad Center is also geographically isolated, which means that even in nice weather it is a long walk from the other places where homeless people might be hanging out. There is not really any place near by that homeless people could hang out between meals (breakfast and dinner) at the Conrad Center. In extreme weather- hot or cold or wet, people risk their health and well being walking so far.
Before the Conrad Center was a reality, homeless people voiced their concerns about the location. They were ignored. Tactics which could have been implemented to make the Conrad Center more accessible even in its terrible location were ignored and neglected. If people who used the Conrad Center were given free bus passes so they could reach the Conrad Center, it would be a lot more useful to a lot more people. However, free bus service is not provided. And now Richmond’s only source of public transportation, the GRTC bus system is cutting routes and raising rates. Which is yet another attack on the poor and working classes which continues to make the Conrad Center a less and less acceptable location.
Aside from its isolation, the location of the Conrad Center is unacceptable because of its psychological impacts. Situated across from the Richmond City Jail, and next to the court and women’s jail, the Conrad Center is a very stigmatizing place. The location of the Conrad Center is clearly part of an ongoing push to make the homeless less visible, and part of the mindset which pushes to criminalize homelessness. Beyond the terrible location of the Conrad Center, the concept of isolating homeless people from other people is also extremely unhealthy. Creating spaces that are ‘homeless only’ prevents friendships and communication across classes. Isolating the homeless reduces their connections with others in the Richmond community and makes them more vulnerable to racist and classist legislation. Homeless people face oppression from many sides, and isolating them only increases this potential for oppression.
The Monroe Park Advisory Council does not accurately represent the people who are involved in activities in Monroe Park. (more…)