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Roanoke City Council votes to ban camping on city sidewalks

Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 5:32 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The Roanoke City Council voted Monday to pass an ordinance banning camping on city sidewalks.

Violations will result in a Class 4 Misdemeanor charge, punishable by fines up to $250.

Only two council members opposed the ordinance, after dozens of downtown business owners, residents, charity leaders, and people who have experienced homelessness voiced their concerns to a packed council chamber.

Those in favor of the ordinance spoke of the unsanitary conditions and negative effect on local businesses created by people living outdoors.

“This isn’t about being anti-homeless. It’s about being pro-Roanoke,” said resident John Wiley.

“I’ve witnessed every single day for the past few years what happens when you do have a group living across the street,” said Matt Bullington, the owner of Texas Tavern. “I don’t think its too much to ask in society that we do have some minimum standards where we’re having clean sidewalks, that people aren’t being harassed and that we’re also trying to be humane and help out those most unfortunate.”

City officials say there is shelter space and other programs already in place to help the homeless, but those who have experienced life on the streets say the system is flawed, especially for those who need treatment for mental disorders and substance abuse, and the LGBTQ community.

Many mentioned Roanoke does not have adequate daytime shelters or spaces for homeless people to use the bathroom, especially at night.

“I was an active client of the homeless assistance team; however, I was put on their waiting list for a housing voucher while others who came after me were helped first,” said Joshua, a man who says he lived on the streets of Roanoke up until this past May. “I tried to be a resident of the mission but since I wasn’t in agreeance of giving them 75% of my income I wasn’t welcome there either,” referring to the Rescue Mission. A representative of the mission who spoke at the meeting confirmed it does require 75% of the income earned from residents, saying that money comes back to residents “in more ways than one.”

“Would you allow someone to come up to your house and tell you you’re leaving because we don’t want you here? No. You wouldn’t.” said a young man named Ezekial, who is currently experiencing homelessness. “I don’t think it’s going to be the same for us. We’re humans just like you and to be treated as anything less than that is tragic.”

The ordinance could go into effect as early as next month.

People on both sides of this argument have said they would like to see more discussion and more funding go toward temporary housing solutions for those experiencing homelessness.

Further details can be found in this previous WDBJ7 report.

Ordinance:

Check back with WDBJ7.com Monday evening for more on the passing of the ordinance.

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