Home Tent City evictions: Councilman thinks the city should have answers for housing problem

Tent City evictions: Councilman thinks the city should have answers for housing problem

Crystal Graham
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With less than a week for Waynesboro’s homeless population in Tent City to find new accommodations, Valley Community Services Board and the Valley Homeless Connection group are putting in extra time to help the men and women who live there through the transition.

Lydia Campbell serves as the coordinator for the Valley Homeless Connection through her job with the Valley Community Services Board.

She calls what is happening in Waynesboro “a tough situation.”

“Our outreach worker is spending increased time down there working with folks individually to see what they’d like to do,” she said. “Anyone who’d like to access shelter and is able to access shelter will be connected.

“Ultimately, we’re going to continue to work with folks to assist them with locating permanent housing no matter where they are physically located.”

Campbell said alternatives include Valley Mission in Staunton, which does have beds available. The WARM cold-weather overnight shelters are first-come, first-served, so planning for shelter there is “difficult.” She said at least five people in Tent City are in an active housing search with permanent housing staff, but finding units is challenging.

Waynesboro City Councilman Terry Short Jr. said he got an email from City Manager Mike Hamp about what was happening in Tent City after the police had visited the location to give the people living there orders to vacate the premises.

In a phone call with AFP, Short said, “as a region, we are long overdue to acknowledge homelessness, mental health and behavioral health.”

He said there are limitations on local government on what they can do when it comes to mental health services and affordable housing. He said localities like Waynesboro really need more state support to adequately address the issue.

“As awful as this is,” Short said, “human beings shouldn’t be living outside 24/7.”

Short said that mapping out a plan for what to do related to housing was one of his priorities when he ran for a seat on Waynesboro City Council. The solutions have proved hard, he said.

Before COVID, Short was working with other community individuals to organize a Housing/Homelessness Summit, but with the pandemic, it got put on the backburner.

He said when considering the budget each year in Waynesboro, affordable housing is always discussed. He said it was even more on the radar in last year’s budget talks.

Neighboring localities including Harrisonburg and Charlottesville seem to have addressed homelessness with the use of day shelters. AFP has reached out to both localities to learn more about how they were able to make the shelters a reality.

In a recent interview with Augusta Free Press, Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry executive director Brian Edwards said that the organization had talked about a day shelter before COVID, but it’s not in their immediate plans. Edwards estimated at the time of the interview that it could cost $1.5 million or more to build and operate a day shelter.

Short acknowledges that the problem is not going away, but remains hopeful for a solution.

Short said he plans to meet with city staff on Friday and plans to ask questions about what is happening in Tent City.

“Where do we go from here? The city should have an answer for that,” Short said.

Homeless Helpline

The Homeless Helpline may be reached at (540) 213-7347.

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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.