Albemarle Council hears business concerns on homelessness

Photo courtesy of the City of Albemarle

ALBEMARLE — At its meeting on Jan. 22, the Albemarle City Council heard from local business owners about the growing homeless population within the city.

Complaints about loitering, camping, vandalizing and panhandling were raised as ongoing issues, particularly in downtown.

“It came to our attention about a week ago of some issues that have gone on downtown,” Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Sue Hall said. “It had been on our agenda for some time. Everyone here knows that Homes of Hope — based on their mission statement — is the agency responsible for taking care of the homeless, so I reached out to (Homes of Hope’s development director) Shanta Watkins last week.”

A 10 a.m. meeting on Feb. 13 will consider the challenges of homelessness in the county, the different agencies providing services, and to brainstorm potential solutions. The meeting will be held in the Ray Allen Community Room at Albemarle City Hall.

Hall confirmed that she had a list of 25 different nonprofit and for-profit agencies belonging to the state and county that could potentially work together to come up with constructive ideas and tactics at the collaborative meeting.

“One of the things that we’re going to do ahead of time in preparation is to send the invitees a survey and ask, ‘What does your agency do for the homeless, what could it do for the homeless, and what is our largest issue with homelessness?’ Hall remarked. “There are a lot of factors that play into this. There are some ideas that people are coming and there are just a lot of things, and we hope to be able to put those on the table and come up with some point.”

Hall said she had also spoken to the National League of Cities — an advocacy organization in the United States that represents the country’s 19,495 cities, towns, and villages along with 49 state municipal leagues — who offered toolboxes and ideas of how to deal with the homeless issues across the country.

One of the local business owners concerned about the situation, Peter Henkenjohan, said he had just filed a police report for items that were stolen from his building.

“Our business has been broken into with items stolen off the property itself. Police will come and give a police report, but that’s really not cutting it anymore,” he said, noting his observance of a “constant meandering” of foot traffic between the agencies that assist the homeless population.

“There’s free breakfast at Grace’s Place, then free lunch at Christian Ministries, then free showers at the YMCA in the afternoon, and then back to Grace’s Place for free dinner,” Henkenjohan continued. “And they also get free needles, many of which end up in my front yard.”

Council members reiterated that these topics will be considered at the special meeting on Feb. 13.

The next regular council meeting is set for Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m. in the Albemarle City Hall Council Chambers.