Open Doors in need of transportation for temporary shelter

Published: Oct. 14, 2022 at 3:54 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Open Doors low barrier homeless shelter in Harrisonburg will reopen for its thermal season on November 7. With the shelter operating on a rotating model, switching between host churches it needs some help to get its guests there.

“We’ve been working on the commitment that there would be transportation provided this season for our guests. Unfortunately, that commitment is not being followed through with for understandable reasons so we’re less than a month from the season and need to find transportation for our guests to the county locations,” said Nate Riddle, Director of Operations for Open Doors.

The city of Harrisonburg had planned to provide transportation for Open Doors Guests but after having discussions with its transportation department realized that federal regulations prevent it from doing so.

“If we use our transit service to provide a special route for just one organization technically that creates a charter service which we’re not allowed to do under federal law. All of our routes have to be open to everybody even our routes that serve JMU students, anyone in the community can get on those,” said Mike Parks, Harrisonburg’s Director of Communications.

Because the city’s transportation department receives federal funding it must follow the regulations.

Parks said that during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, federal regulations were relaxed, and the City was able to use its transit buses to transport individuals experiencing homelessness to locations offering overnight shelter. With the pandemic emergency ended, the regulations are back in effect.

“A route that would serve just the patrons of Open Doors would only be for Open Doors’ guests and that’s something that under federal law we just can’t do. The other issue that we’ve run into and hope to continue to address is workforce shortages,” said Parks.

Parks said that HPTD remains short 20-25 bus drivers and added that the city is also not allowed to lease its buses out to other organizations.

With its temporary shelters able to host up to 40 guests and several of them being in Rockingham County, Open Doors is now looking for another solution.

“We’ll certainly meet that 40-guest capacity. You know right now we’re trying to locate assets. During COVID a lot of folks have sold off their transportation assets so we used to have a core of churches that provided transportation but many of those churches no longer have their vans or buses,” said Riddle.

Riddle said that Open Doors has some transportation committed and is in need of more but otherwise the shelter is on track and ready to be open on November 7.

“We are committed to ensuring there’s transportation. At this time we do have one van committed which will haul 15 passengers but we would at least like one or two more or a bus if someone has those assets. That way we can get all our guests to the shelter at the same time. If not we’ll take multiple trips,” said Riddle.

The City of Harrisonburg did provide Open Doors with $200,630 in Community Block Development Grant funding for its pandemic response. It said that these funds can be used on private transportation.

Anyone interested in helping provide transportation for Open Doors or assisting in other ways can get connected here.