Homelessness increases in Roanoke area, but it's still trending downward

More families face homelessness, though many individuals find homes, survey says

ROANOKE, Va. – More people are now homeless in the Roanoke area compared to a year ago, but the problem is still better than it was in 2012, according to the Blue Ridge Interagency Council on Homelessness.

The city of Roanoke released the council’s findings Monday. They showed trends from a survey the council conducted on the night of Jan. 24 in Alleghany, Botetourt, Craig and Roanoke counties including the cities of Roanoke, Salem and Covington.

There was an uptick in homelessness this year. Nearly 20 percent more people are homeless now than in 2017, according to the survey.

Families were hit the hardest. The survey showed there are now 27 percent more family members who are homeless compared to last year.

"That is a significant number of families for a small place like the Roanoke Valley,” said Dr. Paula Prince, the chair for the Blue Ridge Interagency Council on Homelessness.

She said area groups are still working hard to help people find a place to live.

"It's the lack of housing and a living wage,” she said when asked why there are more families that are homeless. “That really hits people very hard." 

But there’s still a downward trend. Even with the survey showing that 317 people are homeless in the regions studied, there are 43 percent fewer people who are homeless this year than there were in 2012, when the number soared to 561. The low was in 2017, when the survey found there were 267 people without homes.

One category that the council examines has seen steady improvement. There were 23 percent fewer chronically homeless people this year, meaning more people who have a long-term struggle with homelessness are finding places to live.

That number has dropped by nearly 75 percent since 2012, after the council altered its strategy.

"We've totally changed the way we think about it,” Prince said. “Now, we house people first, because that makes them far more able to then deal with the issues in their lives that are making them homeless in the first place.”

She said, in the past, the council has first provided resources to prepare people for new housing, which she said delayed the process unnecessarily. 

She said the council has been working with landlords and providing financial assistance to people, adding that one reason for the success in the last six years is that the groups helping people are working together more.

And with more funding, she said, area groups like the Rescue Mission of Roanoke could help more people.

"Oh, absolutely. We have very limited resources,” she said.

Nearly all, 96.5 percent, of people surveyed this year were staying in emergency shelters, with just 3.5 percent staying in unsheltered locations.

Nearly 1 in 5 people surveyed were children and nearly three-quarters were over the age of 24.

Other studies show there are far more families are in need than the council’s survey reflects. The council’s findings don’t include people who are staying with friends or other family members, or people staying in hotels.

In just one example, Roanoke City Schools included those families in their count and found that there are nearly 500 homeless students in the school district.