Killing them with kindness

This post relates directly to the Roanoke Times article which can be found here.

The homeless situation in downtown Roanoke is unique to this area. Many years ago, the city was faced with a serious problem. The homeless squatters in the derelict downtown area. They were harassing the public, urinating in the streets, loitering and littering. The usual problems, then things got bad. The Hotel Earle. 8/21/91 - a homeless man decided the front doors of the hotel would make a great place to set up a lean-to and took up residence there. In what he considered the kitchen (actually the portico between the front doors and inner doors), he caused a fire - which promptly shot through the then 82-year old structure. The hulk burned for hours, injured 3 firefighters, and wasted several thousand gallons of water.

The City has had numerous chances to act on the homeless issue, there was once a vote in the city council to decide to remove the homeless from the entire market area, or turn a blind eye and allow them to stay. The council voted to allow them the freedom to move about the market as they saw fit, provided they were not too aggressive in the panhandling. This was in the years before Downtown Roanoke, Inc. and at a time when downtown was dying a slow and painful death.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20 - but consider that with the advent of DRI - the City has all but handed control of the Market area to them, and virtually walked away from any issues that arose.

And now, 15 years after the Hotel Earle fire, it is a shame that Downtown Roanoke, Inc. feels the need to hold a workshop on dealing with the homeless for local business owners - while the city removes some benches and calls it a day.

The burden of ownership of the entire city falls squarely on the shoulders of the City council, not on any single group. The City claims to have a vested interest in revitalizing the Downtown area, yet no thought appears to be given to the very laws which prevent panhandling and solicitation, loitering and littering - which could easily be altered and amended to place severe restrictions on those doing so in the Market area. Sometimes zone enforecement means zone restrictions - and downtown Roanoke should absolutely be an area in which the rules are a bit tighter, and a bit more enforced. Everything from litter to sidewalk access - which means No, Wertz cannot BLOCK the entire sidewalk on Sunday's for the limited tables they might serve outdoors.

I spend many a Sunday downtown, and given how Wertz is set on the vendor-side of the street - it is damn near impossible for anyone, handicapped or not to navigate the vendor area properly. It is a major violation of several federal rules, not to mention the very trust of the public in keeping it's sidewalks clear for pedestrian traffic.

Quality of life is one of the things that makes Roanoke great - and that includes the homeless. They have better access to services here than anyplace else I have been. A medical clinic is not uncommon in most cities, but a dental clinic is nearly unheard of. The homeless have access to 3 square meals a day, a bed and a shower moreso here than anyplace else they might land. They have groups which are willing to go to bat for them.

I have good, solid information that Wanda is homeless by choice. She has been offered something none of us would be - an apartment, with utilities paid for and food stamps - along with other attractive amenities - at no cost to her. She refused, preferring the freedom of her life on the streets. To which I say fine, that is her choice and we live in a country which allows such a choice - however, this is a big town - and she need not haunt the market area endlessly. Aside from the safety hazard she represents, with bags in tow blocking curb space or benches - a trip and fall lawsuit if I have ever heard of one; she also represents what downtown used to be. If she took up residence infront of Trio, Metro, or Wertz - how fast do you think she would be moved? Perhaps she can find a nice nook when the Art Museum opens on Salem, across from the former Hotel Earle.

I do not wish to excommunicate this woman from Roanoke totally, I just feel there is a better place for her - provided she is willing to give something in return.

I say, if the homeless wish to remain in the market area- offer them a simple job, sweeping the street - working in an information booth (for those so suited) - even washing windows for the local businesses. Let them earn their keep if they want to stay there, give them a wage so they need not beg and if any choose not to take part in the program, then they must leave the market area itself.

It's a choice we have to make at some point.


FireFleitz said...

From what I understand, we almost lost a good firefighter in that fire.

Anonymous said...

Does this graciousness extend to the homeless woman that threw a chunk of concrete against my car at the Williamson and Campbell light? Or the one I caught trying to break into my car in the Anthem parking lot?