Roanoke groups say they’re prepared to tackle summer homeless increase

Published: Apr. 15, 2021 at 12:24 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Near Smith Park in Roanoke, a cluster of tents has popped up over the last few weeks. The spot, near a bend in the Roanoke River, has become a temporary home for Roanoke’s homeless.

Camps like the one along the river become more common as the weather heats up, playing host to some of the 250-350 homeless people who live in Roanoke.

“It can be a difficult population to work with. There’s usually lack of trust,” said Matt Crookshank, Raonoke’s Human Services Administrator.

Warm weather or cold, the work Crookshank oversees often falls on the Homeless Assistance, or HAT, team.

“We still provide outreach every afternoon, our team is in the field visiting locations in the community,” he said. “Then we have walk-in hours for folks to come to us in the morning from 8 to noon.”

The HAT team looks to connect people with “shelters, permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing. So there are all kinds of different options where we try to match folks with the option that’s going to be meet their needs,” said Crookshank.

One of the team’s main goals: to not criminalize homelessness.

“Our clients have enough barriers as it is with mental illness, and a lot of situations with past criminal history and other things,” said Crookshank.

But while the HAT team can offer services, people don’t have to accept them. Crookshank says the team works with people for months sometimes, trying to build relationships. Success can be elusive he said, but the team keeps trying.

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