Downtown Roanoke Ambassadors hoping to find funds to continue

The pilot program was only funded for the first two years

ROANOKE, Va. – Thomas Hard knows firsthand what it’s like to live on the streets of Roanoke.

“I’m an addict and alcoholic in recovery. I was homeless. I lived at the rescue mission for two years,” Hard said.

Five years sober, and now a licensed social worker, he uses his story to bridge gaps with other people experiencing homelessness.

“I wanted to be a little more involved with people where they’re at in the elements instead of crossing t’s and dotting i’s,” Hard said.

Hard is an outreach specialist for the Downtown Roanoke Ambassador program, which aims to give people a more positive experience in the city.

But, the program’s funding runs out in September of this year.

Jim Roberts owns J Roberts Salon downtown and said the program is vital in terms of helping Roanoke look its best.

“On Sundays, the city wouldn’t have its best foot forward if you will, then when I started noticing the ambassadors working even on Sundays, giving people who are visiting Roanoke a better look of our city, it was a huge factor in me really being an advocate,” Roberts said.

The eight-person team and equipment currently cost more than half a million dollars to run annually.

It’s largely funded by Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, Downtown Roanoke Inc., and $300,000 worth of ARPA funds from the city.

We asked Hard and Roberts why they think the program is so vital and needs to continue more than these two years.

“Because it’s working,” Hard said.

“I think it’s extremely crucial. I think that anyone who has the chance to come in play with keeping this program ongoing, it’s a no-brainer,” Roberts said.

For Hard, the job allows him to get people who are struggling like he was, the help they need.

“It’s not a Tommy thing — it’s the ability to do what I’m doing out here,” Hard said.

You can make a tax-deductible donation to the program here.

About the Author

Abbie Coleman officially joined the WSLS 10 News team in January 2023.

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