Home Evicted: Waynesboro’s homeless population served trespassing orders for Tent City

Evicted: Waynesboro’s homeless population served trespassing orders for Tent City

Crystal Graham
homeless man
(© Photographee.eu – stock.adobe.com)

Waynesboro’s homeless population living in Tent City on Essex Avenue has been ordered to vacate the premises with one week to find another location to call home.

According to a statement attributed to the Waynesboro Police Department, the department was asked to assist the property owner with individuals trespassing on private property.

“Five officers went to the property in 400 and 500 blocks of Essex Avenue,” the statement read. “Individuals encountered were notified about trespassing with a notice to vacate the premises with time afforded to make alternative arrangements and provided with resource information.”

The owner of the property, Augusta County resident David Gauldin II, said in an email shared with AFP that “tenants, neighbors and employees” requested the encampment be shut down. The 20-acre property houses a multi-purpose commercial building with several businesses including some employees of Mathers Construction.

Bottom Alley Development, owned by Gauldin, is the manager for the heavy industrial zoned property.

In a statement provided to AFP, Gauldin said “several stakeholders in the community have come forward with concerns about a population of individuals who are trespassing on our property and have contributed to an increase in theft, loitering and trespassing in the area.”

Gauldin confirmed a warning was issued to the individuals of Tent City to vacate the premises. A second warning will be issued later this week, Gauldin said, with a final notice being issued next week. After the final notice, there will be charges for anyone remaining on the property.

“We asked for the city’s involvement because of the disturbance to the safety of our tenants working at Essex and concern from the neighborhood in general about escalating illicit activity from Tent City,” Gauldin said. “Simply put, the mingling into our tenant’s operational area has caused a disruption that is unsafe.

“The people have been trespassing into our operation outside storage area and breaking into our buildings,” he said. “Theft of items from users of the facility, the rising unlawful activity, boldness to destroy property and the like, have left us no choice but to protect the safe work organization of our organization and partners.”

Waynesboro, in a statement provided by City Manager Mike Hamp and forwarded to AFP from Mayor Lana Williams and Councilman Kenneth Lee, said “the city understands that asking the individuals to relocate is disruptive.”

“Individuals will have a week to make alternative arrangements,” the statement read.

Tent City, or Tentpocalypse as it’s called by its residents, is home to 20-30 of Waynesboro’s unsheltered residents. The encampment has been in place for decades.

Randall Wolf, with Bike Box of the Blue Ridge and a former candidate for the Augusta County Board of Supervisors and Virginia House of Delegates, works regularly with Waynesboro’s homeless population, providing them bikes for transportation and the occasional snack when they stop in to the non-profit’s office on West Main Street.

He said he received a text Tuesday morning from friends in Tent City who told him “the landowners were kicking us out.”

In response, he said he has reached out to a number of people who work with the unsheltered neighbors to try to find a solution.

“They don’t want trouble,” Wolf said of the homeless people in Tent City, “just a safe place to call home, at least until they can find a path forward to an apartment.

“I’m disappointed that the owners of the property requested this action.”

The City Manager reached out to Valley Community Services Board yesterday morning to alert them of the action, according to Wolf.

“This is a terrible situation for the people who live there,” Wolf said. “They have nowhere to go that offers them a somewhat safe space. Most have applied for housing assistance and are on a wait list with 400 other people.

“It is easy to evict people from the land but for the city not to offer shelter to our neighbors in need is inhumane.”

Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry, or WARM, provides overnight housing to Waynesboro’s homeless population in winter months through a partnership with churches in Waynesboro and Augusta County. However, the cold-weather shelter service ends around Easter. There is no day shelter for the unsheltered population in Waynesboro.

The LIFEworks Project, an organization that supports Waynesboro’s unsheltered population with food, clothing and other supplies, is hopeful that city leaders will step up to address the need in the community.

“The LIFEworks Project is saddened to hear that our neighbors are being asked to leave the only option for shelter for houseless individuals in the City of Waynesboro – with nowhere to go,” said Adrienne Young, executive director of The LIFEworks Project. “We will continue to support the efforts of community leaders in this locale to advocate for decent, affordable housing for Waynesboro’s most vulnerable residents.

“It is our hope to encourage city leadership and others with the capacity to help to consider that when you lift from the bottom, we all rise.”

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.