Roanoke’s homeless ordinance is now in effect; downtown business expresses opposition

Roanoke Valley News

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) – An ordinance that makes it illegal for people to camp on the public sidewalks and rights of way within the Downtown Service District is now in effect in the City of Roanoke.

Roanoke City Council members voted 5-2 on Monday, Dec. 6 to adopt the ordinance amending and reordaining Section 24-12.

City leaders say the ordinance is the result of residents complaining about congestion of the downtown sidewalks and people urinating and defecating in public.

Monday’s city council meeting was packed with people on both sides of the issue.

“I think that it criminalizes a symptom of a problem that we all need to be working on more diligently and more thoroughly and more compassionately,” said Ami Trowell, co-president of Ursula’s Café.

Trowell says she would like to see the city put more of an effort into providing resources to help those who don’t have a home, adding that the ordinance does the opposite of help.

“It, in fact, impedes it and makes it more difficult for people to find shelter by accruing fines and potentially a criminal record, which we all know makes it harder to find a job,” Trowell said.

According to the City Attorney’s Office, if someone is caught camping on the public rights of way in the Downtown Service District, he/she could be charged with a Class 4 misdemeanor and face a fine of up to $250. Jail time is possible; however the city will continue to work with the person to avoid incarceration.

The City Attorney’s Office adds there is sufficient space for people who are homeless, reporting that 250 people are experiencing homelessness and more than 300 beds are available at shelters across the city.

The Rescue Mission of Roanoke issued the following statement following the ordinance’s approval:

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/Marketing Manager, Rescue Mission of Roanoke

Lee Clark, the CEO of the Rescue Mission of Roanoke, joined WFXR News for a live interview during “Good Day Virginia” to discuss the city’s homeless ordinance. You can watch that interview below:

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