HRHA presents homelessness report to council

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — At Tuesday night's meeting, Harrisonburg City Council heard a presentation from the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority about homelessness and affordable housing in the city.

Michael Wong, executive director of HRHA, said in his report that the homeless population decreased by 17 individuals since last year; however, chronic homelessness is increasing in the city.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines chronic homelessness as "having a disability, plus one year of continuous homelessness, or four episodes of homelessness in three years of one duration or longer."

From years 2017 and 2018 to years 2018 and 2019, chronic homelessness in Harrisonburg increased by 10%.

Wong outlined the costs associated with chronic homelessness, explaining that a chronically homeless person costs the tax payer an average of $35,578 a year. However, Wong said that providing supportive housing to these individuals is a first step to resolving the issue.

"We have to improve our access points, where we do outreach to the chronically homeless. Just by nature of being homeless, it's difficult to contact them," said Wong. "A second issue, is being able to have certain types of housing specifically designed to support them."

The report also showed a decrease in the number of available shelter beds in the city. From 2018 to 2019, available beds decreased from 184 to 144.

During the meeting, Wong requested that council reconsider a housing development on East Gay Street in the Northeast neighborhood.

Council denied that request, saying the issue is not the housing, but the location.

Mayor Deanna Reed and Councilman Chris Jones said they do not want more subsidized housing in the Northeast neighborhood and promoted inclusivity around the city.

Council members, along with City Manager Eric Campbell, said they are committed to working with the HRHA to address the presented issues.