Non-profits react to Roanoke’s proposed sidewalk ordinance

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 11:38 AM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - A proposed ordinance in Roanoke is targeting the city’s homeless population.

The discussion started Monday at a City Council Meeting, and now local non-profits are voicing their thoughts about the proposed rule that would make it illegal for people to camp out on city sidewalks.

The ordinance was presented by Roanoke’s City Manager and City Attorney to address the growing number of people finding refuge in the streets downtown.

The proposed law would make it a Class 4 misdemeanor to sleep on city sidewalks in the downtown service district and some are worried this would negatively impact the city’s homeless population.

“At this moment our folks that are unsheltered have zero places that they are permitted to exist with the exception of the homeless shelter,” Dawn Sandoval said.

Sandoval is the leader of The Least of These Ministry. She takes her mission to the street to help the homeless in Roanoke.

“They’re not unhuman just because they’re homeless, but their options are being removed from them daily,” she said.

Often times people seek shelter on the street because they feel safer and are not at as much of a risk for assault and robbery when they are under the streetlights, Sandoval said.

Sandoval said she understands the call for action, but she hopes the city considers other initiatives as well.

“And I do understand the city wanting to not have those individuals in public view, but that’s why it’s so important that we come to the table and create more innovative opportunities, like tiny house villages or something so people can exist permissibly, and they are not bothering other people,” she said.

The concern is that if an individual struggling with homelessness gets a mark on their criminal record, they could miss out on job and housing opportunities, Sandoval said.

Statement on behalf of Tina Workman, President and CEO of Downtown Roanoke, Inc.

Downtown Roanoke, Inc. (DRI) agrees that homelessness continues to be an issue of concern and complexity in our city, and we support compassionate solutions to protect the rights and safety of downtown businesses and their patrons as well as the unsheltered population. We’ve reviewed the details of the ordinance proposed by the City and recognize this is one of several initiatives to safely transition individuals out of homelessness, a priority we share with the City and many others.

For more than a year, DRI has heard serious concerns from business owners and the community that the prevalence of sleeping on city streets is creating unhealthy conditions and safety concerns that include impeding right of way and pedestrian traffic, reports of lewd behavior and unacceptable, unwanted harassment.

As a member driven organization, we collaborate with many partners to make Downtown Roanoke the preferred place to work, live and play. To fulfill that mission for everyone who enjoys our city, the cycle of homelessness must be broken. We are working with downtown stakeholders to further explore this issue and how we can be part of the solution to end homelessness. We urge the City and its many partners to work beyond this one step to create wholistic resolutions that safely transition individuals out of homelessness.

The Rescue Mission of Roanoke also helps the city’s homeless by offering an emergency shelter for families and men.

The Rescue Mission’s Community Outreach Manager Kevin Berry said they are going to keep their focus on the people in need.

“However, the dust settles with a potential ordinance we are going to continue to do what we do best which is to help people when they need it and we are going to always be here with open doors and open arms for everybody who comes,” Berry said.

The city plans to vote on the ordinance during the first city council meeting in December.

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