Home Waynesboro homeowner says B Street homeless encampment ‘not safe’

Waynesboro homeowner says B Street homeless encampment ‘not safe’

Crystal Graham
b street homeless encampment waynesboro
B Street homeless encampment, image submitted by Pamela Mitchell

Tent City isn’t the only place in Waynesboro where individuals who are homeless set up to live off the grid – without the rules of some of the shelters in the area.

Pamela Mitchell lives on B Street near The Salvation Army in Waynesboro.

Like the owners of the property on Essex Avenue known as Tent City, Mitchell worries about the safety of those in her household and her neighbors.

Mitchell has lived in her home for eight years, and the situation with homeless people nearby has gotten worse over time, she said in a series of emails to AFP.

Behind her home, along the road, is an opening in the woods. There is an abandoned building, and the homeless have erected tarps and tents there along the river.

Mitchell said she has caught the homeless people living near her stealing from her yard and using her water without her permission – and due to the traffic in the area, she suspects there may be drug activity there as well.

“Families and children used to go fishing and swimming back there,” Mitchell said. “Now they don’t because of all the homeless, and it’s not safe at all.”

The Waynesboro Police Department said it responded to three complaints.

“The Waynesboro Police Department is aware of the encampment,” Sgt. Jamie Dunn said in an email to AFP. “We responded to one incident in August 2022 and two incidents in September 2022.

“Advice was given, and the encampment was determined to be on private, not city property,” Dunn said.

As to what advice was given to the homeowner, the police did not respond to our request to clarify specifically what advice was offered.

AFP asked the police department and homeowner who owned the property – but did not get a response – other than it is not owned by the city.

If the owner of the property was determined, and the owner posted trespassing notices and notified police, it is possible that action would be taken to remove the homeless individuals from the property – similar to the action happening now on Essex Avenue.

As far as where the homeless would go if removed from B Street, that remains unknown. There is space available at the Valley Mission in Staunton. But the cold-weather or thermal shelters operated by Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry are full.

“Presently we are averaging 35 guests a night which is our maximum capacity due to Waynesboro zoning, staffing and equipment considerations,” said Brian Edwards, acting executive director of WARM. “WARM does not have the space for additional guests at this point.”

Edwards said that WARM could serve more people in Waynesboro if the zoning restrictions were eased that limits the maximum number of people they can serve at the shelter.

“Then maybe the dialog can continue on how to address what causes many citizens to lose their housing,” Edwards said.

Lydia Campbell, a community-based services manager with Valley Community Services Board, said that finding permanent housing units for the unsheltered population is difficult due to the lack of affordable housing in the area.

On B Street, Mitchell remains frustrated with the Waynesboro Police Department and their response to the situation.

She said that men urinate in front of her children, but the police department told her “public nudity is not illegal, and there is nothing they can do.”

The Waynesboro Police Department did not respond to our request for more information on the law covering public nudity.

Mitchell said one officer responding to her complaints told her to let her dog out to help protect her family. Mitchell said she is worried if that action resulted in her dog biting if he sensed danger, that their family dog could be put down – and she’s not willing to do so as a result.

“The whole back drive looks like a junk yard – their trash is everywhere. It still blows my mind how these grown men are allowed to expose themselves around children.

“And WPD (Waynesboro Police Department) does nothing to protect my children and I.”

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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.