Retired nursing assistant left to sleep on yoga mat at Virginia shelter

A seat on the pavement behind a dumpster in a Burger King parking lot isn’t the most comfortable spot with snow approaching. But that’s where Katherine found herself as an “arctic cold front” approached, according to the National Weather Service.

It seemed to be nearly the last resort for Katherine.

Katherine, who recently became homeless and whose last name will be withheld to protect her privacy, was nearly denied shelter Friday. 

She’s in her 60s, uses a walker and had been discharged from Sentara Norfolk General Hospital with a broken arm.

Sentara Norfolk is the same hospital system Katherine said she used to work for as a nursing assistant at Sentara Heart Hospital. She’s helped patients in critical need of help with basic care tasks.

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She told Fox News she did that work about 20 years. 

“As a nursing assistant, I worked in cardiac surgery recovery. I assisted the nurses, and the patients would come out of cardiac surgery,” Katherine said, adding she would help patients eat, walk and perform “stress tests” to determine their post-operative wellness. 

She connected them to EKG and blood pressure machines and helped them walk on a treadmill, she said, “depending on how active the person was.”

“Sentara Healthcare is committed to ensuring a safe discharge for all patients. For every patient discharge, our care teams assess and offer available resources to ensure patients have access to shelter and additional medical care as needed,” Sentara Healthcare told Fox News. 

“Additionally, Sentara participates in the ‘Healthy Hotel’ project, which provides shelter and medical services to vulnerable homeless patients in the city of Norfolk.” It provided a link to that resource.

A Good Samaritan, Lisa Suhay, was informed of Katherine sitting in a McDonald’s and decided to intervene.

Suhay showed up to help this former nursing assistant get some shelter from the inclement weather.

Amid phone calls to authorities ranging from Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander’s office to Adult Protective Services and Norfolk Community Services, the two women sat and waited inside — and outside, in the 30-something-degree temperatures — of a homeless shelter lobby, Suhay said.

The lobby was in a motel-turned-shelter next to a Burger King. 

It’s called “The Center,” which was touted as recently as October 2021 as a place offering education, mental health services or even just encouragement for the homeless.

When Katherine showed up, however, there weren’t beds or mattresses, according to photos and footage.

Instead, there were yoga mats, four to a room, with a plastic divider.

“It was horrible,” Katherine, who uses a walker, said. “My biggest problem is trying to get up and down. It was horrible.”

That’s what a senior citizen, a former nursing assistant with a broken arm and other medical conditions, was left to sleep on.

"The Center" homeless shelter in Norfolk, Va.

“The Center” homeless shelter in Norfolk, Va. (Lisa Suhay)

“The people that were in charge of operating the shelter didn’t seem to know what they were doing,” she said, noting that guests had to leave at 7 a.m. each day to “get out of the room” until the evening.

Katherine was said to have been kicked out Sunday because of her medical frailty that comes with age.

“The [Center] operates a 100-bed emergency shelter for single adults experiencing homelessness in Norfolk,” the City of Norfolk explains on its website. “In addition to providing year-round shelter beds, The Center provides day services to homeless individuals, which include a midday meal, access to outreach and case management staff, assistance with navigating the housing process and linkage to benefits including SNAP (food stamps), health insurance and more.

“The Center also serves as the City’s overnight shelter response during severely cold weather (as declared by the Emergency Operations Center) with up to 50 additional overflow spots.”

“We can all judge,” Suhay, the Good Samaritan, said. “Everybody wants the homeless story to be neat and clean and just easy to just check all the little boxes, and it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes there are barriers to someone’s care.”

The Norfolk homeless woman's clothing.

The Norfolk homeless woman’s clothing. (Lisa Suhay)

After finding herself back out on the street Sunday, Katherine took another trip to the emergency room. She found another temporary shelter, but it’s only a matter of days or hours before she must move on to the next one.

The TikTok that Suhay posted Saturday has garnered attention, with almost 10,000 “likes.”

The GoFundMe to help Katherine get housing has reached just over one-tenth of its goal.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office did not offer a comment on the situation.

Alexander’s office did not directly address Fox News’ question about why a senior citizen had to sleep on a yoga mat.

The City of Norfolk responded that it “provides The Center, a supportive shelter for homeless adults with vulnerabilities. The Center provides 100 shelter beds nightly and, during extreme weather events, extends overflow space in the common areas for those who need safe shelter. We have support staff 24/7 to ensure guests’ needs are met. We work with individuals to meet their most urgent needs of life safety while seeking alternatives to provide them a better ongoing solution.”

On Saturday, Norfolk is expecting another snowstorm with a high of 31 degrees and winds up to 27 mph in the forecast. Youngkin declared a state of emergency.

Katherine is still looking for a place to stay. 

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