ROANOKE, Va. – Building connections is top of mind for Roanoke City leaders.
During a community forum on homelessness Sunday afternoon, city council members came together with the heads of homeless service providers across the valley.
Pam Milkowski is the healthcare service manager of the Fralin Free Clinic. She says trust comes before anything else.
“If we can go out there and connect with these individuals, talk with them, treat them if we need to for their mental health needs, build a rapport with them, then we can work towards the next steps,” Milkowski said.
Milkowski says that mental health problems are often the root of homelessness, which is why they have mental health professionals go to people in need.
“You lose money, you don’t have a job anymore, you lose housing and that affects your mental health,” she said.
Former Vice-Mayor Trish White-Boyd says that we need to humanize the issue before we can solve it.
“When we consider the issue of homelessness, it’s crucial to remember the homeless people are our brothers, our sisters, our aunts and uncles, our parents and even our children,” White-Boyd said.
The current housing environment is a problem according to Roanoke Rescue Mission CEO Lee Clark.
“We’ve seen a decrease in affordable, safe housing,” Clark said.
A consensus across all of the organizations is a lack of volunteers.
“I’m the only one in the shelter with one volunteer. So, it’s me and anywhere from 75 - 100 people in the shelter a day,” Senior Shelter Program Manager at RAM House Linda Canon said.
All in all, they are trying to make a greater effort to reach out to people experiencing homelessness, instead of waiting for them to seek out help—no matter what they need.
“Go out on the street to where people are and literally meet them right where they are,” Clark said. “Whether it’s under a bridge or in an encampment, an abandoned building, meet them where they are, build a relationship and build a connection there.”