ROANOKE, Va. – It’s been over a month since the City of Roanoke made it illegal to camp on downtown sidewalks, forcing many people experiencing homelessness to find a new place to sleep.
Roanoke’s Homeless Assistance Team, also known as “HAT” has worked with the city to get people experiencing homelessness off the streets.
“What we do is we work with folks that are unsheltered, living on the streets. And our role is to build relationships first and build trust and then work with connecting individuals to services,” said human services administrator, Matt Crookshank.
Crookshank says before the ordinance went into effect this year, his team was out informing unhoused people about the change and connecting them with services.
“We haven’t really seen an increase in need because of the ordinance,” he said.
Part of the sidewalk along Church Ave. used to be a place where people experiencing homelessness would sleep. Since the ordinance, people have fled the area and either sought shelter at places, like Rescue Mission or found other areas outside of downtown to rest their head at night.
“We’ve seen encampments pop up, some in Southeast in other parts of the city. Folks have dispersed and spread out which is what we kind of thought would happen with the ordinance,” said Crookshank. “But we are doing everything we can to make sure folks are connected to services and engaged and working towards solutions,” he said.
City officials have said before the ordinance is about compliance not punishment. According to City Manager, Bob Cowell t’s been working. He released a statement to 10 News saying in part,
“Since its adoption, there has been no enforcement action needed related to camping on sidewalks in downtown. The combined efforts of educating folks about the ordinance and increased outreach efforts has proven beneficial and compliance has been voluntary.”
HAT continues to focus on their job, connecting people experiencing homelessness to services they need.