ROANOKE, Va. – James Bivens lost his job, then the pandemic hit. When he didn’t get his unemployment check, he fell behind on rent.
“I just couldn’t bounce back,” said Bivens. “I tried so hard you know to find work, but it’s a hard thing when you’re coming back from nothing.”
At 60 years old, he’s now experiencing homelessness for the first time in his life.
“I live right back in here in an abandoned house,” said Bivens. “No water. No lights. You know, so I come over here to clean and bathe myself and wash my clothes and go look for a job.”
The “here” he refers to is the RAM House. It’s a day shelter in Roanoke that provides 150 meals a day, clothes and toiletries, plus emergency financial assistance for rent and utilities.
Executive Director Melissa Woodson says the growing homeless population in the Star City is nearing a crisis.
“A lot of people that are in the lower middle class, with inflation and such high utility bills, are falling through the cracks,” said Woodson.
In order to address some of the barriers to finding permanent housing, the Ram House partnered with the Roanoke Rescue Mission’s Fralin Free Clinic to host a pop-up clinic, offering medical and mental health services.
The Virginia Department of Health even stopped by with hepatitis-A, hepatitis-B and COVID-19 vaccines.
“To go and meet them where they are and gain their trust and treat them, that’s huge. And they’re appreciative,” said Pam Milkowski, the clinic’s manager of health care services.
Bivens said the problem’s bigger than people realize, estimating around 1,500 individuals in the Roanoke area experiencing homelessness.
He said there need to be more services like those offered by RAM House and the Roanoke Rescue Mission and more beds because anyone could be just one paycheck away from falling on hard times.
”I’m not trying to stay like this,” said Bivens. “But unfortunately this is all I have at the moment.”