Citizens spearhead a grassroots solution to help the homeless by opening a winter shelter

A cold shelter will be opening in Petersburg this week.
A cold shelter will be opening in Petersburg this week.

PETERSBURG—If you build it, they will come.

That’s what Pat Hines discovered when she spearheaded an effort to open a cold shelter in the city.

After learning that there was no dedicated shelter in Petersburg through a Progress-Index investigation, Hines got a group together to brainstorm solutions in December.

She found that there was a van taking the homeless to a shelter in Dendron, 45 minutes southeast of Petersburg. But if people missed the van, they wouldn’t have a place to sleep at night. Others didn’t want to go that far.

They made calls to churches and nonprofits to see what resources were available. Initially, a church said that they had a house the group could use. When that fell through, Councilman Marlow Jones stepped in and donated his building on 22 N. South St.

With the building secured, donations from all over the community flooded in: people donating clothes,  pillows, sheets, blankets, towels, coffee maker and coffee, a brand new fridge, and more. Groups stepped in to offer to bring dinners, and others volunteered their skills: installing the shower, putting together shelves, painting the walls.

“It’s been phenomenal,” said Hines. “It's just been a beautiful experience to see how collective community impact can work if people decide to do it.”

Petersburg has been without a dedicated homeless shelter since the Salvation Army closed down their men's shelter in 2017. Since then, efforts to open up another permanent shelter have been derailed by some council members.

This winter, the Petersburg cold shelter will be for men 18 years or older. Doors will open at 6p.m. to 7 a.m. The lights out will be at 11p.m. Any male 18 years or older can come.

Hines is hoping that this effort will pave the way to have a more permanent shelter, and a blueprint for more citizens to step up when they see a problem.

“We're hoping that this will be a spearhead for other community groups to identify a problem and find the solution not so encumbered with all the reasons why something can't get done,” said Hines. “A blueprint to replicate how a small group of people from the inside of a community can make a difference by finding a solution for that particular problem at that particular time.”

Work is still being done in the building, but they are aiming to have it open sometime this week. They are aiming for it to be in operation until the first week of April, depending on the weather. They currently have paid staff from 11p.m. until 7a.m., but are still in need of male volunteers to come during the first part of the night.

Those interested in volunteering can call 804-451-8324.

Joyce Chu, an award-winning investigative journalist, is the Social Justice Watchdog Reporter for The Progress Index. Contact her with comments, concerns, or story-tips at or on Twitter @joyce_speaks.

This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: Petersburg's citizens rallied to get a cold shelter open