ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — The issue of homelessness in Roanoke City has been a growing concern recently. This year, the number of people experiencing homelessness showed a downward trend compared to the last several years, but it seems to be picking up again.

Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea says the city is taking a similar approach to homelessness as it did with gun violence, which means asking community members to offer support to organizations who provide housing and resources.

He adds that officials are in the process of looking for space to create an environment for those without a home. Meanwhile, the Roanoke City Council is hoping to avoid having people camp out in front of businesses.

“It has an effect on some of our businesses in the city, so it’s an urgent issue that we’re dealing with,” said Lea.

According to the mayor, the Star City is looking into vacant areas and working with some shelters to make sure there’s enough room. One problem officials run into frequently is people who want to live outside.

“Mental health, drug abuse, those are factors that we have to deal with that makes this even tougher,” Lea explained.

A Point In Time Count report conducted by the Blue Ridge Continuum of Care showed 216 homeless people in the Roanoke region as of Jan. 26.

The human services administrator for the Blue Ridge Continuum of Care, Matt Crookshank, says there are currently 269 people experiencing homelessness, a significant jump compared to the numbers seen over the last several years.

“Trend-wise, we’ve done really good work in the last 10 years, but during the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of challenges, a lot of folks are experiencing hardships with increased rents, with inflation, increased substance use, mental illness that’s untreated,” said Crookshank.

Last month, officials counted a total of 91 people who were living outside. In addition, Crookshank says that the trend has shown an rise in people staying outside as opposed to staying in shelters.

According to Crookshank, affordable housing is a large contributor, adding that there is a concern number of homeless people could grow in the near future.

“We’re looking for some space right now that we can create an environment for them, but it’s so imperative that we not have these individuals laying in front of businesses, preventing people from going to work, or intimidating people,” the Lea told WFXR News.

The Star City’s mayor says those camping out in front of downtown businesses are often asked to move from the area by law enforcement, but if they don’t comply, they can be arrested.

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re dealing with homelessness, city officials encourage you to call Roanoke’s Central Intake line at 540-853-1163.