Roanoke County Board of Supervisors approved a new ordinance that prohibits anyone from using a vehicle as sleeping quarters.
Roanoke County officials say sleeping in your car poses safety risks, and can have negative effects on neighborhoods.
It shall be unlawful and a Class 4 misdemeanor for any person to use an automobile for sleeping quarters, in place of a residence, hotel or other similar accommodations, within the County. As used herein, “hotel” means any structure that is occupied or intended for occupancy by transients for dwelling, lodging or sleeping purposes. As used herein, “automobile” shall mean a vehicle that is powered by an internal combustion engine or motor and able to carry one or multiple people. It shall include all motor vehicles, excluding “recreational vehicle(s)” as defined in Section 30-28 of this Code.
The ordinance does not apply to taking a nap but is for people sleeping in their vehicles long term.
“Our primary concern behind this is the health and safety of people. On a cold winter day like today, we don’t want people living in their cars, it’s not a safe comfortable place for them to be,” said County Spokesperson Amy Whittaker.
Whittaker says the new ordinance gives staff a chance to intervene in serious cases when people are living in their vehicles. She explains that the ordinance is complaint driven. So once they get a complaint about someone living in their vehicle. the first step will be to check on them.
“It gives us an opportunity to provide them with resources that might aid them in their situation and try to help them out,” said Whittaker.
Some people, like Sonya Chappell, who have been forced to live in their vehicles’ don’t agree with the ordinance.
“It’s tough, it’s tough living out of your car, especially when it seems that the local police department and things like that, and businesses don’t look favorably on it,” said Chappell.
“You’re just trying to find a place to sleep and stay safe and secure and that’s the security you have. That’s your home, for the time being, is in an automobile.”
Right now, she’s staying at the Trust House a resource that helps people get back on their feet.
Debbie Sawyer is the Trust House Director of Housing and Homeless Services. She says the ordinance would solve the issue of people sleeping in their cars, but they would still have nowhere to go.
“So the people that we serve have very little, they’re not sleeping in their cars because they want to but because that they have to. And they’re reluctant to reach out for help. So sleeping in their cars allows them that last bit of dignity to sleep in something that they own,” said Sawyer.
The new ordinance takes effect immediately and makes the violation a class 4 misdemeanor with a fine up to $250.