The tent camp in Market Street Park has been steadily growing since Charlottesville City Manager Sam Sanders lifted the park’s curfew nearly two weeks ago. We’ve received dozens of questions about this camp, and the city’s plan going forward, since we first wrote about it Friday.
We’re still working on this report, but I know how important this issue is to many of you, so I wanted to briefly answer some of your questions with the information we have now.
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Who are the people camped at Market Street Park?
Erin O’Hare, our neighborhoods reporter, and I spent yesterday afternoon at the park. The half dozen folks we spoke with all said they’ve been living here in Charlottesville for years — and most said they have also been unhoused for years.
Near the northern edge of the park, along E. Jefferson Street, Gregory Adams is camped alongside a few other men in a little cluster of tents. Adams was the only person who gave his name. He’s in his early 50s and has been homeless for at least a decade. He said most people think he has a drug problem, and he knows many other homeless folks in town who do. But he doesn’t, he said. He has severe mental health problems that make it difficult to keep a job and a home. He wasn’t willing to talk about his mental health with us. But he had a lot to say about what it’s like being homeless in Charlottesville.
Adams was living downtown long before Sanders lifted the curfew for Market Street Park.
“We sleep on the stoops, you know,” he said. “You didn’t see us as much as you do right now, but we were still there. Just like the rats. We were still there.”
Several other people we spoke with said the same thing. A 32-year-old woman (she asked us not to use her name) said she’s been on and off Charlottesville’s streets since she left “a bad situation” at her mother’s home in a neighboring Virginia city at 25. She currently has an apartment, which she shares with other people. But that situation is also bad, she said. She’s not safe there. She wouldn’t say why, just that she’s safer sleeping outside.
Before the park opened, she slept on downtown porches and in alleyways.
“You’re constantly getting woken up,” she said. “I’ve been on the streets a long time. I’m extremely worn out. Anything that happens on the streets, it’s magnified so much. It’s literally like the end of the world.”
Monday afternoon, she was lying in a shady area, away from the other tents near the center of the park.
“I can come here and just rest and relax. It’s in a park next to the Haven [Charlottesville’s day shelter]. I slept here last night and then I woke up and went there. That was such a convenience. It’s near all the soup kitchens,” she said, motioning to various churches surrounding the park. “So I don’t have to worry about eating. A lot of my basic needs get met in this location. The location is amazing.”
That said, she doesn’t think this is a good permanent solution. The park feels safe now, she said. But there’s no guarantee it will stay that way. The more people who gather there, the more chance for trouble.
Not all the people staying at the park were sleeping downtown. More and more are congregating there from different places around the city. There are also people who are not homeless staying there. We spoke with a man who said he legally changed his name to “untitled,” who has a home and a car. He’s staying there to help people, he said.
Adams’ friend David, who only gave his first name, is homeless. He was camping in the woods near the Rivanna River before moving to Market Street Park.
“At first, I didn’t feel safe here,” David said. “Not at all. There ain’t no people in the woods. Just me and the deers. Here, they’re fighting and all. That’s why I don’t like to go to some of these places where we all have to crowd up together.”
What is the city’s plan?
We heard about City Manager Sam Sander’s plan at last night’s City Council meeting. (You can hear it yourself at this link. The City Manager’s report starts at 17:45.)
The short answer is: He’s working on a plan.
While it’s not fully formed, there are several things the city is going to start doing immediately. Sanders said he will send social workers out to meet the people living in the park and try and help them find resources. He’s also going to ask People And Congregations Engaged in Ministry (PACEM) to open their winter shelter early. That organization told us that last winter, demand for their overnight shelter was double what they could provide.
Several of you asked if the people who are camped at Market Street Park will move into the winter shelter. We’re still reporting on this question.
In the long term, the city is going to make addressing homelessness a priority. Sanders said officials are going to look seriously at identifying and funding a second homeless shelter — or perhaps more. He presented a slide with some of their strategies.
What is still unclear is how long the city will permit camping at Market Street Park. Sanders said only that it is not intended to be permanent.
Sanders noted that he’s received intense criticism about his decision to lift the curfew at Market Street Park. And he is unapologetic. Council members, too, stood behind the decision.
“We’ve gotten messages from some folks asking us to discipline our city manager,” said Councilor Michael Payne. “I just want to say affirmatively, we are not going to do that. This is why we hired our city manager.”
How will this affect downtown business?
This is a question we got several emails about and we’re still reporting on the impact to restaurants, shops and offices. If you’re a downtown business owner and want to share your thoughts, please hit this link and leave us a note and a way to contact you!
Will there be sanitation issues at the park?
Another great question. I can tell you there are public bathrooms on the Downtown Mall and at the Haven that are open during the day. At night, there are no public restroom facilities that I know of for the folks staying there to use. We’ll be reaching out to city officials and asking them about how they intend to head off any possible issues.
Do you have other questions you’d like us to look into? Or sources you think we should speak with? Hit this link and send us your thoughts! We won’t be able to answer everything, but it will help direct our coverage as we move forward.
Thanks for reading, everyone!
Jessie Higgins, managing editor
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