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Suffolk leaders want to open a new homeless shelter to serve a growing population of unhoused people in the city.

Deputy City Manager Kevin Hughes presented the plan to Suffolk City Council last week.

Hughes said the city would purchase the 19-room Regal Inn off Pruden Boulevard, and renovate it to hold residents for temporary stays.

During the early days of the pandemic, many localities used hotels as places to house homeless residents — especially as nonprofits struggled with housing demands.

“Hotel rooms were used essentially to kind of get folks off the street and provide some assistance,” Hughes said. "But that really was just putting a Band-Aid on a wound.”

The city's overall population is growing between 2-3% each year, Hughes said. Between 2021 and 2022, the homeless population in Western Tidewater — which also includes Franklin and the counties of Southampton, Isle of Wight and Surry — grew almost 40%, according to data collected by the Southeastern Virginia Homelessness Coalition.

Housing costs have increased across the greater Hampton Roads region, worsening the issue. In Suffolk, almost a third of renters spend 30% or more on housing alone, meeting the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of cost burdened.

Suffolk leaders want to renovate the Regal Inn for long-term use as a shelter, rather than a stopgap quarantine measure. The idea came after the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development gave the city $1.4 million during the height of the pandemic.

Hughes said he’s talked with officials in Norfolk, which still operates a pandemic-era shelter at the Budget Lodge on Tidewater Drive. He hopes some of the ideas implemented there would work in Suffolk, like daytime activities and onsite resources like counseling or job training. He wants the shelter to be a base of operations for the city’s homelessness strategy at large.

“You might not be staying overnight, but it gives you the opportunity to do your laundry, get out of the heat or the cold or whatever it may be,” he said.

Hughes said he wants to partner with the Western Tidewater Free Clinic, which is near the new site.

That would be another way to get services to residents who need them.

“I think with the city's evolution, resources … come along with it,” Hughes said. “More people, more resources. Folks look at us for enhanced quality of life… and that's something that I think that as a local government we're up for, and we want to provide those resources.”

The city’s holding an informational meeting about the proposed shelter at the Hilton Garden Inn at 100 E Constance Rd. at 6 p.m. on Oct. 5.