Alexandria, VA

James Harris has been coming to Christ House to get an evening meal for about a year ever since he lost work from the pandemic.

“Strange how all that started,” Harris told ALXnow just before 5 p.m. outside the Old Town charity. “It just popped up out of the blue, so I’ve been coming here for about a year since business got quiet.”

Alexandria’s homeless increased to 207 people, a 5% increase over 2019, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ annual report on homelessness in the region. The report for 2021 is being gathered now and should be ready by the end of next month, although it’s not clear yet if there’s a change this year, despite high unemployment figures.

Lesa Gilbert, director of the city’s Department of Community and Human Services Center for Economic Support, said that homeless do not have to sleep outside in Alexandria.

“You have an option to stay in our winter shelter in the Lee Center,” she said. “It’s open all day. We also have warming shelters throughout the city.”

Earlier this month, a homeless woman was found dead in Arlandria. Her death was not suspicious, according to police, and the city reportedly offered her help.

Last year, the city put homeless in hotels during the initial months of the pandemic, although the practice has since been discontinued. Carpenter’s Shelter also moved its David’s Place shelter for the chronically homeless at Landmark Mall to a smaller location at 930 N. Henry Street in Old Town.

Gilbert doesn’t know if the number of homeless will rise in 2021, but said that a federal extension of the eviction moratorium for renters beyond March 31 will help. There have been numerous protests throughout the city from renters asking for an extension.

“We’re doing the best we can in terms of connecting residents to the Virginia Relief Program, as well as the programs that we have here locally or locally funded dollars to prevent folks from losing their housing.”

Carpenter’s Shelter Executive Director Shannon Steene says that volume at the shelter decreased from 60 to 42 people to encourage distancing, and that the eviction moratorium must be extended.

“This past year has been such a mind bending experience,” Steene said. “There are several hundred households in the city of Alexandria influenced by that moratorium. That clearly affects what volume we see here at the shelter.”

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