Home Tent City is not the solution: But Waynesboro doesn’t seem to care about its homeless

Tent City is not the solution: But Waynesboro doesn’t seem to care about its homeless

Chris Graham
(© Gary L Hider – stock.adobe.com)

Tent City, out of sight, out of mind, allowed Waynesboro to pretend for years that it doesn’t have a problem with homelessness.

The bill was bound to come due.

For the activists upset with the property owner who has asked the city for help in evicting the roughly two dozen homeless residents because of concerns about an increase in criminal activity in the area, some perspective would seem to be in order.

You no doubt have an extra bedroom, space in a basement, if nothing else, room in your backyard.

If you haven’t invited people between homes to your property, don’t blame somebody else.

This isn’t any single private property owner’s problem; this is Waynesboro’s problem.

For that matter, it’s America’s problem.

Our economy is as close to full employment as it can be, and yet there aren’t enough jobs that pay a living wage for people on the fringes.

We hear from political leaders that we need to prioritize behavioral health and substance abuse services, but those same political leaders don’t provide the money for those services.

Lip service is paid to the idea that we need to incentivize affordable housing, but even the money we have committed to provide affordable housing goes unspent – as we’ve been writing about has been going on over in our neighboring city, Staunton, for the past several years.

Here in Waynesboro, it’s been easier to just let people between homes live in the woods on the other side of the South River where nobody has to see them, on property that somebody else owns.

It’s certainly cheaper, from a taxpayer standpoint, to not do anything.

Oh, yes, we like our taxes low here. Our elections put people in office who brag about keeping our belts tight, at the expense of our school system, which doesn’t have enough teachers, our police department, which doesn’t have enough officers.

At the expense of the people in Tent City.

Our neighbors in Staunton, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, have 24/7/365 community solutions in place to assist those in their communities who are between homes.

We have WARM, a cold weather shelter that does what it can, and then Tent City.

The WARM shelter is a step in the right direction, but clearly, we need to do more.

Waynesboro City Council needs to take the lead here, but it’s hard to have a lot of confidence in our group of elected city leaders.

AFP reached out to City Council members to get their perspectives on the city’s role in addressing our homeless population. One, Terry Short Jr., engaged in a back-and-forth with detailed thoughts, so, credit to him. Two others, including the mayor, Lana Williams, shared the same talking points that had been shared with us by the city manager, Mike Hamp.

Note to Mayor Williams and Kenny Lee, the other who shared the city manager’s talking points: he works for you, not the other way around.

The city needs to take on a leadership role here, but the people we elected don’t appear to be interested in doing more than paying the same lip service that got us to where we’ve been for years, with an ad hoc Tent City serving as the de facto solution.

If we had a City Council with a backbone, the city would be acting this second to organize the various stakeholders – WARM, the Valley Community Services Board, LIFEworks project, CAPSAW, the Community Foundation, the United Way, The Salvation Army, Bike Box of the Blue Ridge, local churches, activists – to begin working toward actual solutions.

As it is, we have people complaining because Tent City is going away.

Tent City is not the solution, except in a city that is embarrassingly incapable of addressing its real-world problems head-on.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].