CARES: A Central Virginia Lifeline for the Homeless

By: Sherry Williams Kidd | Email: Click Here
Posted: Apr. 11, 2018 | 2:45 p.m. 

VIRGINIA – The Crisis Assistance Response Emergency Shelter (CARES), has provided transitional and temporary shelter for the homeless of Central-Virginia for 35-years. They assist families from Prince George, Dinwiddie, Chesterfield, Sussex, Surry, Petersburg, Colonial Heights, and Hopewell. Unbelievably, CARES is the only emergency shelter in all of the entire tri-cities and surrounding counties.

“It is a sobering statistic, but by the beginning of March, 2018, we had already assisted almost as many families, as we had assisted in all of last year,” said Dr. Cheryl G. Riggins, Executive Director. “Some of this can be attributed to the closing of the Petersburg Salvation Army Shelter.”

It is beyond desperate or frightening, and perhaps almost unimaginable, to ponder not having a place to sleep, a place to keep your things, a place to feel safe, and a place that is your own. As frightening as this sounds, add children to the predicament, and this situation becomes overwhelming and terrifying.

It is commonly reported that most Americans have not adequately prepared for the future, and that they have woefully-inadequate, or no savings at all. If this is the case, most all of us may only be several paychecks away from homelessness. Perhaps this is something we should consider when we think about our perceptions, attitudes, and treatment of those that are homeless.

In 2017, CARES provided a total of 4,507 shelter nights. This equates to 270 people—89 were women, and the rest were children. Dinwiddie County residents used 84 shelter nights, and Prince George County residents used 346 shelter nights. CARES predominantly assists women and children for two reasons.

Fort Lee Army Logistics University presents donation to Dr. Cheryl Riggins, CARES.

“Men are taken in only if they are part of a family,” said Riggins. “We do not separate families,” she added. “In some ways, men are less likely to acknowledge that they are homeless. When we examine the populations that we serve, women are typically the head-of-household,” Riggins continued.

When people in need first arrive at CARES, they meet with the staff member on duty and explain their situation. Basic demographic information is collected, and a tour of the facility is provided. CARES provides beds, linens, towels, personal hygiene items, and toiletries. A lockbox is provided for any valuables. If someone arrives with children, they meet with a child services coordinator to assess the children, both physically and emotionally, and make additional referrals, if necessary. The CARES education coordinator ensures that children are enrolled in school with supplies, provides enrichment activities, tutoring, and more.

Those staying at CARES will also meet with a social worker within three-days of admittance. Follow-up meetings are expected weekly, and social workers are flexible and accommodating to schedules. CARES works to develop a Housing Plan to identify housing barriers, needs and goals, and necessary supportive services (housing, employment, food stamps, and more). Actions on these plans are required within 10-days for those that are single, and within 15-days for those with children.

Continuing housing support services include referrals to job finding assistance agencies, budgeting and money management workshops, mental health and substance abuse screening and counseling, domestic violence and sexual abuse counseling, parenting and nutrition instruction, and more.

When permanent housing has been achieved, CARES will provide the opportunity to receive ongoing support and resources that may be needed for a family’s continued stability.

“CARES is so much more than a shelter,” said Dr. Riggins.

CARES also operates a Food Pantry and Clothes Closet for people with low-incomes. The Food Pantry and Clothes Closet are located at 120 East Washington Street, Petersburg. Food and non-perishables are available at no cost. The Food Pantry is open on Tuesday, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and on Thursday, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. The Clothes Closet is open on Wednesday, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and Thursday, 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. No appointment is needed.  Men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing; limited household furnishings; and toiletries are available. Anyone using the Food Pantry or Clothes Closet should bring proof of residence and documentation related to income.

Employees of Walmart Distribution Center, Transportation Division, Sutherland, present donation to Dr. Cheryl G. Riggins, Executive Director, CARES.

In addition to the shelter, the Food Pantry, and the Clothes Closet, CARES partners with others in the community for additional services. This winter, CARES partnered with the First Baptist Church on West Washington Street, Petersburg, to provide a warming shelter for men, women, and children. CARES also coordinates cooling shelters for periods of extreme heat.

“As with all of our services, there is no race, religion, gender, color, or creed at a warming or cooling shelter; all are welcome,” said Dr. Riggins.

CARES is in great need of your help. Monetary donations can be mailed to CARES Incorporated, P.O. Box 1167, Petersburg, Virginia, 23804. Items that are always needed, and greatly appreciated, are canned goods, non-perishables, baby formula, toiletries, school supplies, blankets and linens, gently-used clothing and shoes, and household items of all types. City and county employees, businesses and their employees, civic organizations, sororities and fraternities, school groups, and scouts are encouraged to conduct drives for monetary and tangible donations.

“Volunteers are also needed,” said Dr. Riggins. “We have one-time volunteer opportunities such as painting the kitchen or other rooms, trimming the shrubs, running a canned food drive, and more,” she added. CARES also frequently needs volunteers with trucks. “When people show up to the shelter, they usually have all of their belongings in a trash bag or two. When more permanent housing is obtained, families visit our Service Centers for more clothing and household items, and a truck is often needed to deliver all the new items to their new homes,” said Dr. Riggins.

For more information on CARES or to set up a time for delivery of donations, call (804) 861-0865. Email them at Check them out online at
The need is real—and the need is great.

“Could anything be more gratifying than helping the least of these; but for the grace of God, any of us could be homeless,” said Dr. Riggins.

Copyright 2018 by Womack Publishing
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