Prudent transformation: Suffolk Hotel to become homeless shelter

Published 8:21 am Friday, November 17, 2023

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The City of Suffolk took its first steps to convert The Regal Inn property, located at 2361 Pruden Blvd, into a homeless shelter during the council’s Wednesday, Nov. 15 meeting.

In a unanimous vote of 8 to 0, council members voted to approve CUP 2023-20, allowing for the conversion of the property into a homeless shelter. 

Following the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, in which $5 billion was provided for housing, shelter, and services for those experiencing homelessness in FY 2021, the Western Tidewater Region, led by the City of Suffolk, was awarded $1,415,291.00 for the planning and administration of homeless programs and support.

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The approval follows a city-organized open house held on Oct. 5 at the Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront, where residents voiced their concerns for the placement of the shelter. This action follows the Planning Commission’s Oct. 17 meeting, where the project was recommended following 7-0 vote. 

Director of Planning and Community Development Kevin Wyne provided details on improvements to the building and security measures.

“The existing site currently operates as a motel use and the proposed use will operate largely unchanged in the interior with only cosmetic improvements to the building to include painting the exterior. The office apartment on site will be converted to an office and meeting space for facility management which would provide intakes and meeting with residents to discuss resources,” Wyne said. “Physical improvements occurring to the property and the building will be done to provide managed control of approved individuals and security of the premises. These include a privacy fence to be placed around the perimeter of the property and security cameras placed around the building and in the main office.”

Members of various nonprofits, including Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk (CAPS) and Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia, voiced their support of the shelter. Ronald Harvey expressed his support of the ordinance while sharing his own experience with homelessness.

“I live in one of the Star Haven homes where the opportunity to be able to change my life after going through homelessness and trying to develop some type of reality of life to move on forward and live life on life’s terms,” Harvey said. “This is an opportunity for me to be living in the Star Haven homes to be able to be established. Because once you’re able to get everything situated like social security when you are partially disabled, it’s hard to establish and become a [productive] citizen in Suffolk to be able to say ‘Keep from going back doing what we used to do.’”

Cheryl Griffin, who has 10-years of experience operating homeless shelters in the Suffolk and Western Tidewater areas, voiced her support of the ordinance while also speaking to “dispel some of the stereotypes and fears associated with homelessness.”

“When I first started, I thought I would be helping them and while I did, I found that they helped me more. They taught me lessons about myself and about stereotyping. I was shocked at my judgment of them. I soon discovered that they weren’t all lazy bums that didn’t want to work and just wanted a handout, these were people like my siblings, my children, even my parents that often though no fault of their own became homeless,” Griffin said. “The biggest difference was that if this happened to my family member, they had family to pick up the pieces and help. Many of these [people] either have no family or their family is in no position to help them.”

Fawcett expressed his support for the ordinance while thanking City Manager Albert S. Moor II and various staff who brought the project to fruition.

“I think this is probably one of the greatest things that have happened while I’ve been on council to have something of this magnitude come and I know that some of us on council in the past years have sat and talked to the City Manager about having the need to get some of these folks off the street, particularly in the winter time and times when you see them and they need some help,” Fawcett said. “I want to thank our City Manager and our staff and all the people involved that started working on this project and he brought it… ”

Council Member Leroy Bennett also expressed his support for the ordinance, noting that it has been “a long time coming.”

“We have been talking about this for some time and it really has touched my heart many days when I ride through town and I see the people sitting on the benches and different things with their clothes and everything right there beside them. And I can’t thank CAPS enough for the years of service that they have given to take people off the street,” Bennett said. “It’s not a large step, it’s a baby step, but I am hoping and praying that we will be able to enlarge our territory in some other place [so] that we can continue to help the people that’s really in need.”

Following the meeting, Moor, Deputy City Manager Kevin Hughes and Mayor Michael D. Duman provided their thoughts on the shelter. Hughes expressed how excited they were for the addition. 

“It’s an initiative that we know that there’s a need for and we were fortunate to receive some funding for Suffolk in the Western Tidewater area and I look forward to providing an asset that will be complimentary to folks that need that type of assistance,” Hughes said. “So, I think it’s a real positive day for the City of Suffolk and for those that need that type of assistance.”

Duman said that the “stars aligned” for the project.

“We had grant money, we had what I felt was the perfect location, it’s going to be an improvement and it’s something that we desperately need in the city, to be able to address that issue,” Duman said. “So I am excited, and you can tell by the comments, I think everybody else was also.”

Moor expressed his appreciation for the work done on the project and noted there is more work yet to be done.

“John Brooks that was in [Comprehensive] Planning [and Housing/Redevelopment] was part of the initiative, and they brought forth the location and it just sort of came together and council just got behind it,” Moor said. “We’ve got a ways to go, we got to bring it into operation, but we also got to think about transition after that and all the activities that we’re going to need to put in there to help folks.”