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No Mission of Hope this winter

Citing the risk of further spreading COVID-19 throughout the county, Isle of Wight’s Mission of Hope homeless shelter has opted to keep its doors closed this winter.

Since its founding in 2007, the nonprofit organization has partnered with local churches to provide temporary shelter for Isle of Wight’s homeless population during the winter months. Participating churches would take turns providing space, volunteers and supplies. But when those churches were forced to close during the early days of the pandemic, Mission of Hope’s 2020 season came to an abrupt end on March 21.

“At that point, all of our church resources could no longer support homeless intervention for our winter shelter in our community,” said Mission of Hope Board President Barbara Wiggins.

In the months that followed, COVID-19 infections in the county have continued to rise, prompting a number of churches that would ordinarily participate as host sites for Mission of Hope — among them Christ Episcopal in downtown Smithfield — to keep their sanctuaries closed to the public and their services virtual.

According to an online transcript of a Dec. 8 clergy call from Bishop Susan Goff of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, “no congregation in the Diocese of Virginia is currently eligible to gather for worship indoors … As a light to the world, we refrain from regathering in our church buildings as a sacrifice and gift to ourselves and to other people, particularly the most vulnerable.”

While Main Street Baptist, another participating church, has offered the use of its facilities throughout the year as sites for the Western Tidewater Health District to conduct COVID-19 testing, “it can’t be open for the homeless; with social distancing, we can’t have that,” Wiggins said. “Without the churches, we do not have Mission of Hope. We have the words, we have the name, but we do not have the body.”

Still, she’s not blaming the churches.

“This disease is what it is; it’s not a joke,” she said.

According to Wiggins, a total of 11 homeless individuals came through Mission of Hope from Jan. 5 through March 21 this year. When the churches closed during the initial shutdown, Mission of Hope worked with STOP Inc. to house its remaining homeless at the Carrollton Econolodge through April 4 — the last day the shelter had originally planned to operate.

“STOP Inc. was a tremendous help for us this year, because they sought to try to keep families and individuals who were from Isle of Wight County in Isle of Wight County at the Econolodge,” Wiggins said. “The cost per week is far beyond what the average person in need can afford. They were prompt and always willing to assist us financially when we called for assistance with housing the homeless.”

With no shelter to offer this winter, Wiggins is asking anyone who may become homeless during the winter months or anytime thereafter to contact STOP Inc. at 757-858-1360, the Homeless Crisis Hotline at 757-587-4202, the Genieve Shelter for battered women and children at 757-925-4365, ForKids at 757-622-6400 extension 3, dial 211 or call her other nonprofit, Providential Credit Care Management Inc., at 757-356-0591.