Richmond program tackling homelessness about to become homeless

Volunteers assemble furniture at CARITAS.

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — It’s a busy morning at CARITAS, as several old FARTS (we’ll explain … ) hammer away at some tables they are assembling for the Furniture Bank.

FARTS stands for Furniture and Restoration Team Specialists, and the good-natured retirees give their time each week to help families in need.

Now, though, the greatest need is for CARITAS, itself.

The warehouse on Commerce Road that its Furniture Bank, Works job skills development program and offices have called home since 2009 will soon be a thing of the past. Plans for a housing development are pushing CARITAS out of the space, and the clock is ticking.

“We were planning on moving next year, but the tax reform that happened in December has kind of escalated the time-table for the folks who are going to turn this into affordable housing,” explains Karen O’Brien, the CARITAS Chief Operating Officer.

O’Brien says the programs helping people break the cycle of homelessness and addiction have to be out of the 60,000 square foot building by the end of June.

CARITAS currently has a new headquarters under construction, but it will not be ready until next year.

Recently learning they have to vacate the warehouse means it is crunch time for staff members, along with the men, women and children served every week.

“We really provide a resource that’s become essential in the community,” says O’Brien. “We don’t want to pause our operations. We want to be able to have it seamless, and we want to be able to continue to serve the community and collect donations that people are so generously giving to us.”

O’Brien adds that the developer’s first plan of action is to jack hammer the floor and gut the plumbing, so there is no way CARITAS can even use part of the warehouse once work on the housing complex begins. She says the developer is trying to help CARITAS find another location where it can temporarily run its programs.

However, she expects extras will have to go for the time being. That includes auctions to raise money and the furniture building that the FARTS do for outreach.

Services will also likely be streamlined until CARITAS can move into its permanent home during the summer of 2019.

O’Brien says not knowing where CARITAS will operate is a major stress.

“I was really worried about telling them that we were going to move this year, and then we were going to move again next year,” she recalls her interaction with the staff after learning the news. “And after one deep breath, they all went, ‘Okay, what do we have to do?’ And that’s just the spirit of the people that work here. It’s just amazing.”

CARITAS is looking for a 40,000 to 50,000 square foot warehouse with office space nearby to move into for the next year until the new headquarters is finished. It hopes to relocate to another space on the South Side so volunteers who walk there currently can continue to help.

8News reached out to Spy Rock Real Estate, which is developing the property. No one accommodated  our request for an interview.

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