Home Homeless population packing up, moving out of Tent City in Waynesboro

Homeless population packing up, moving out of Tent City in Waynesboro

Crystal Graham
tent city waynesboro
Photo by Randall Wolf

The unsheltered people living in Tent City in Waynesboro are busy packing up their belongings as they prepare for their eviction from the property they have called home for months or for some, years.

The men and women have been told by the Waynesboro Police Department last week that they must vacate the Essex Avenue property by 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning – or face criminal trespassing charges.

The police department and fire department were at the site early Tuesday due to a small fire that had been started by the residents to burn trash. The folks living there were making tough decisions about what to keep and what to discard.

Apparently, there is a no-burn notice in effect in Waynesboro. The residents were given a warning.

However, with the Wednesday deadline looming, residents know their warnings are coming to an end – there will be consequences if they choose to disobey the no trespassing order. In some cases, prior convictions make them worry that a charge now might land them in jail.

A group of community organizations and individuals, including the LIFEworks Project, Bike Box of the Blue Ridge, Embrace, CAPSAW (Community Action Partnership of Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro), the Valley Community Services Board and Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry, among others, are working to assist those in Tent City.

“To date, Embrace has held a drive to collect bins for the neighbors there, and we have secured a storage unit for their belongings,” said AJ Young Jr., executive director of the LIFEworks Project.

Randall Wolf, an advocate for the homeless and director of Bike Box of the Blue Ridge, said each resident of Tent City was given four totes to pack away their belongings. He was at the site almost all day doing what he could to help and collecting bikes to recycle and return to the residents when they have somewhere to store it again.

As of 4:30 p.m., most of the residents had already packed up and left the site. Around 10 people remained.

Local agencies assisting the individuals, including one homeless woman who is five months pregnant, were urging everyone to vacate the premises by Tuesday night.

As far as where the Tent City population was going, Wolf said many didn’t share their plans with him. Some said they were going to stay with friends in nearby houses temporarily until they figure out where to go.

Solutions to affordable housing, homelessness

Dan Layman, the president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge said they are “prepared to bring money to the table” to address the issue. However, he said, they are waiting for clear direction from organizations on the ground as to what is needed most.

The foundation released the “This is Home” series on their website showcasing the faces of the homeless community. Director of Community Engagement Chris Lassiter spent two years to produce the series – with a goal to make the issue of housing more visible.

Layman said they are following the situation in Waynesboro closely, and points to Valley Community Services Board and their leadership, to let the foundation know what’s needed.

Everyone is in Tent City for different reasons – and many of the individual cases are “complex and complicated by a wide range of issues.”

Layman said he knows there won’t be a one-size-fits-all-solution.

“Aside from emergency needs, we’re working in partnership with Augusta Health on planning and hosting a Housing Summit this year,” Layman said.

They are working to secure top-level facilitation so “it isn’t simply a nice discussion,” Layman said.

“We want to emerge from this with a blue print for developing a long-range plan as well as some clear and immediate steps we can begin taking, including cash investments.”

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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.