Roanoke Rescue Mission responds to concerns about the shelter as new homeless ordinance becomes active

Roanoke Valley News

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) – Several concerns were mentioned before Roanoke City Council members during Monday’s meeting regarding operations at the Rescue Mission of Roanoke.

The organization’s CEO, Lee Clark, was compelled to stand up and ask Mayor Sherman Lea if he could respond to the concerns, despite not signing up to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting on Monday, Dec. 6.

Lea allowed Clark to speak.

The organization is addressing concerns as a way to encourage people who are homeless to seek shelter at the rescue mission. One concern is the shelter forces guests to attend religious services.

“COVID brought about a lot of changes in how many organizations in the Valley operate. One of those changes that it brought about for us is we used to have chapel that was required and that was seven days a week. We don’t have that requirement anymore. We know that providing an environment where everybody feels they are welcomed and safe is the upmost importance in our service,” said Kevin Berry, community outreach manager for the Rescue Mission of Roanoke. “If somebody comes here, we don’t require them to go to chapel. We do encourage them to get involved in some kind of faith community or a community group because we know that is a path for success.”

Another concern shared by residents, and others who are currently homeless, is that the rescue mission requires 75 percent of a person’s income to be turned over.

“Doing that, we know there are a lot of requirements when somebody needs to move out from the Rescue Mission — whether it’s a down payment or a first month’s rent when they move into an apartment, a car payment, or whatever it is that they may need, and so we know savings are critical to that success,” Berry explained. “So, we do have a savings requirement here at the Mission, but the reason we do that is because we know that’s the best opportunity to make this stay here a brief one.”

Berry says that money is returned to each person “immediately” after they move out of the shelter.

The rescue mission has 110 beds. Officials say 10 additional people have chosen to stay at the shelter since the City of Roanoke adopted an ordinance that prevents camping on public right-of-way in the Downtown Service District.

WFXR News spoke with other homeless resources and found The Least of These, Samaritan Inn, and RAM (Roanoke Area Ministries) House are all-day shelters for people without homes. The only other overnight shelter WFXR News discovered was the Trust House, which has a total of 29 beds.

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