ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — An ordinance surrounding homeless across Roanoke passed during the city council meeting Monday evening.

The Roanoke City Council met to discuss the ordinance, which would prevent people from being able to camp in the downtown area. This ordinance came into light after people who lived or work in the area made formal complaints.

Nearly two dozen people spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting on Monday, Dec. 6. They included residents, business owners, community leaders, and people who are currently experiencing homelessness.

Following the public comments, which lasted over one hour, council members passed the ordinance with a 5-2 vote. The two council members who voted not to adopt the ordinance were Joe Cobb and Stephanie Moon Reynolds.

“It’s criminal. It’s despicable. It’s wrong. And it shows that what the people care about in downtown is the business and not the people who are here,” said downtown resident Swade Best.

“I just don’t think that fining them and making it criminal is going to do anything. A lot of them just don’t have anywhere to go. I just don’t think it will be good in the long run,” said Joshua Haley, who was once homeless.

Mayor Sherman Lea said while he has compassion for people who are homeless, the ordinance is designed to protect the economic vitality of the downtown area, which contributes to the vitality of the entire city.

City manager Bob Cowell explained the purpose of the ordinance is not to eliminate homelessness, but rather end the practice of sleeping and camping on the public right-of-way in downtown.

According to city leaders, they understood the adoption of the ordinance is not a solution to homelessness and it would force those who are homeless into other parts of the city, saying they would have to address the issue then.

The Rescue Mission of Roanoke released a statement regarding the passing of this ordinance.

“In light of the homeless camping ban ordinance that was passed yesterday by the Roanoke City Council, we will continue to do what we have always done, serve those in need. We know that an organization best serves its people when it responds to comments and concerns from those affected. We are listening, and we know the face of homelessness is constantly changing. As homelessness changes, we will do our best to serve each and every individual who needs services in our city. Our staff is undergoing training to better understand some of the challenges our guests and potential guests are facing. We do this because we know our primary responsibility is to help people get off the street, get them the services they need, and to help them find long term, stable housing. To everyone who spoke last night, we thank you for your feedback. At the end of the day, our goal is a common one, saving the lives of those who are homeless, addicted, and in need of help in our community.”

Kevin Berry, Community Outreach/Marking Manager Drumstick Dash Director, The Rescue Mission of Ronaoke, Inc.

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