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Richmond’s homeless population can now hop aboard a daily shuttle to medical appointments as part of a six-month pilot program, reports the Richmond Times Dispatch.

The Daily Planet and Freedom House teamed up to offer the program this spring to make it easier for homeless people to get from the Conrad Center soup kitchen on Oliver Hill Way to medical and social service appointments off West Broad Street. Riders are required to show proof that they have an appointment at one of the approved service providers.

Since the center opened in 2007 across from the Richmond City Jail and away from other homeless services, “we’ve always said transportation was a challenge,” said Melba Gibbs, executive director of the Freedom House, which runs the Conrad Center.

While many people who eat breakfast or dinner at the Conrad Center are accustomed to walking or biking, the trek from the center to medical appointments up the hill is a 22-block hike that is “not easy if you’re a healthy person” said Susan Sekerke, advancement coordinator for The Daily Planet. The organization is a full-service health care center providing services to the homeless and uninsured.

“When Freedom House decided to build the building at Shockoe Valley, we knew it was not ideal,” Sekerke said. The Conrad Center moved next to the jail in 2007 after officials spent years considering other sites, and the facility came close to shutting down.

The pilot program costs about $2,500 a month to operate. Most of the funding comes through donations, and about $10,000 is provided by the city. The shuttle runs from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Saturday and Sunday shuttles were discontinued after the weather warmed this spring because they weren’t being used.

During cold weather, the shuttles also are used to transport people from overflow shelters to the meals program at the Conrad Center, which also serves as a warming center in the winter.

The shuttle starts at The Daily Planet’s medical respite center, heads to the Conrad Center and then to locations along West Broad Street so they can go to appointments at VCU Medical Center and the Richmond Social Service agency.

Bryan Armes, the shuttle driver, said he usually has 10 to 20 riders a day for the four routes he drives.

George Morgan, 54, who is staying in the medical respite center, said the shuttle is a lifesaver for him. Morgan, who suffers from arthritis and a heart condition, uses it to get to appointments at social service agencies. The walk from the respite center to the agencies takes “forever,” he said.

“It really does come in handy,” Morgan said. “I use it as much as I can.”