Roanoke City sees increase in homeless population from last summer

Published: Jul. 31, 2023 at 11:19 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Roanoke City has more people experiencing homelessness compared to summer 2022. Roanoke’s Council of Community Services recently released data about the number of homeless people in our city.

There are more people without a permanent residence in the city, but there are fewer people living on the streets. The 2023 Summer Point-In-Time count taken on July 13 shows more people are staying in shelters compared to 2022.

RAM House’s executive director explained it’s a growing issue in Roanoke.

”We’re on the cusp of being like other cities that have major problems,” Melissa Woodson said.

The July 2023 count shows 305 people are experiencing homelessness in Roanoke City. That number is taken from counting the number of people staying in shelters, grouped in the ‘sheltered count’, and the number of people in encampments on the street, grouped in the ‘unsheltered count’.

While the overall number of people experiencing homeless has increased from 269 in 2022 to 305 in 2023, the number of unsheltered has decreased from 91 in 2022 to 70 in 2023.

“These are tough challenges, obviously, that we’re trying to solve,” Roanoke’s human services administrator Matt Crookshank said.

Crookshank explained there’s been a 13% increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness from summer 2022. The recent data show a 54% increase when compared to summer 2021.

“We’ve started to see more people accessing shelter over the last couple years, while the unsheltered numbers are slightly decreasing, so overall, we’ve seen an increase,” Crookshank said. “I think it speaks to the lack of affordable housing, challenges with inflation, and the economic situation of households.”

Many of those without a home stay at Roanoke’s Rescue Mission. The director of communications explained while there’s been an increase, the shelter is not full.

“Many of those folks who are coming to us, they’re struggling to find housing, there’s no doubt about that,” Kevin Berry said. “But many of them are also struggling with substance abuse, and many are struggling with mental health.”

There are resources to help those struggling, but the executive director of RAM House explained help may not be accessible for everyone.

“The idea that they have to go around town and get services doesn’t make sense; we need a one-stop shop for them in the day shelter,” Melissa Woodson said.

To help more people get back on their feet, RAM House is looking for a new building to provide resources for the homeless community.

“We want showers in a building, we want a clinic that Virginia Tech residents can come to and treat people, because the people that are coming into RAM House are not getting the clinical services that they need to get better,” Woodson said.

The City of Roanoke is dedicating more than $6 million in ARPA funding to 50 affordable housing units.

“In this city, we are doers,” Woodson said. “I am optimistic that things can be better in the future.”

Roanoke’s homeless assistance team says it’s better to donate your time and money to community partners like RAM House and the Rescue Mission rather than panhandlers on the street.