Pandemic shutters Mission of Hope for second year

Published 3:48 pm Tuesday, December 14, 2021

For the second year in a row, Isle of Wight’s Mission of Hope won’t be asking local churches to open their doors to the homeless due to coronavirus concerns.

In pre-pandemic years, participating churches would take turns providing temporary shelter for the county’s homeless population during the winter months. But a post-Thanksgiving surge in COVID-19 diagnoses last year prompted a number of local churches to keep their sanctuaries closed to the public and their services virtual.

Many local churches have since returned to in-person services in 2021, but Mission of Hope’s board president, Barbara Wiggins, still deems the risk of housing the homeless in churches too high given that many of the congregants who have volunteered with Mission of Hope in past years are senior citizens.

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“We can’t have unvaccinated people walking into a church, working with senior citizens,” Wiggins said. “I wouldn’t ask. It is seriously too dangerous.”

But that doesn’t mean Isle of Wight’s homeless population will have nowhere to turn for shelter this winter. Wiggins has been working behind the scenes this year, occasionally partnering with STOP Inc., to find hotels, apartments and other accommodations. STOP Inc., according to its website, is an organization funded by local governments and private donors that assists households at or below 125% of the federal poverty level in Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore with achieving self-sufficiency.

“I have a veteran right now at a hotel in Suffolk; she is from this area,” Wiggins said.

Another of her clients this year was “a young man” who “was working two jobs, but he didn’t have shelter,” Wiggins said. “He was sent to (the Isle of Wight Christian Outreach Program), COP sent him to me.”

One of her “worst-case scenarios” came last February when she encountered an elderly veteran lacking any form of identification or proof of his military service.

“I had to do the research to get his military documentation; the homeless crisis hotline, no one would touch him until I had proof … That gap, when someone says they’re homeless, we need something to fill that gap,” Wiggins said.

Even when the churches were available in 2019 and prior as temporary overnight shelters, “you can’t send a mother and her kids out in the morning without stability,” she added.

Those who are homeless or at risk of losing their housing can contact STOP Inc. at 757-858-1360, ForKids’ Housing Crisis Hotline at 757-587-4202, the Genieve Shelter for battered women and children at 757-925-4365 or call Wiggins’ other nonprofit, Providential Credit Care Management Inc., at