Downtown Business Owners Complaining About Shelter

Some downtown business owners aren’t happy about having a homeless shelter downtown, Seth Rosen writes in today’s Daily Progress. Downtown Business Association co-chair Bob Stroh says that “[t]here are locations that would be more helpful to the community than locating it right smack in the middle of the most vibrant commercial district” in response to the months old news that movie director Tom Shadyac had purchased and donated the First Christian Church to serve as the COMPASS Day Haven shelter. Of course, it’s the downtown location that makes it so perfect, what with homeless people generally having to get around on foot. If the DBA has offered to donate millions of dollars in non-downtown real estate to COMPASS, that’s not mentioned in the article. Downtown police officer Casson Reynolds even digs up an old chestnut that good services for the homeless will make C’ville a magnet for the homeless, despite the fact that the local homeless population is far more likely to be local than, say, you. To Seth Rosen’s credit, he points this out.

But not all downtown merchants are grinches. Mary Loose DeViney, owner of Tuel Jewelers (disclosure: and a friend of mine) is happy about the shelter, telling the paper that “[w]e have bums to billionaires and they all walk the same bricks, as they should.” I can’t imagine what the DBA hopes to gain with this kvetching. It certainly can’t be goodwill.

28 thoughts on “Downtown Business Owners Complaining About Shelter”

  1. I used to think the DBAC was a problem but the more I read, research, and ask around, I realize that Bob Stroh seems to be “the problem” and he seems to have some problems of his own in regards to reality and consistency. Perhaps his excuse is that he is simply a mouthpiece for others – paid or unpaid?

    Correct me if I am wrong, but in the last few months, Bob Stroh has:
    1) Claimed that the downtown assaults have been overblown by the media.
    2) Heavily supported the installation of cameras on the Mall.
    3) Voices a negative opinion on the Compass Day Haven project which has been in the news and in the works for close to a year.

    Maybe Bob Stroh would care to actually post his opinions in an open forum or consider being a guest on WINA or NRN. I would certainly appreciated some insight into why his opinions matter at all.

  2. What I find especially baffling about this is going to the press. If the DBA (or Bob Stroh) believes that this is going to be a problem, crime-wise, then they should wait until they see evidence of that and then request redress. Or, if they really want an “I told you so” opportunity, they should meet privately with Chief Longo to warn of what they see as an impending increase in crime. But to talk to a reporter about this just makes downtown merchants look like stone-hearted jerks. Especially with all of the goodwill that was built up for this project, both via the media and the tour that many hundreds of people (myself included) went on after the “Evan Almighty” screening.

    Basically, the DBA wants people to pick between them and COMPASS. I can tell you that, in the court of public opinion, the DBA loses that one every time.

  3. “right smack in the middle?” Oh please. Where, pray tell, does Mr. Stroh think most of the homeless currently hang out? Or is the other side of Market Street far enough away that the homeless who currently spend their days in the library and Lee Park don’t affect Downtown Mall business like the Day Haven will? These spots and the area around Central Place are exactly where so many of Charlottesville’s homeless have spent their days for years. Yes, what a terrible idea to give them somewhere nearby to go where they might be able to go indoors (thereby being LESS visible than they are at the moment).

    The officer quoted somehow neglected to mention that most of the actual crime downtown comes from people who have homes (quality thereof notwithstanding). So it’s almost entirely an image problem for the DBA, not one linked with any actual public safety issue. So some of them smell bad — big whoop. I’d like to tie Mr. Stroh and his assumptions to any one of Charlottesville’s homeless for a week, have him live that way and see what he thinks on the other side of the experience.

  4. My office overlooks Central Place. The homeless sit in front of it all day, don’t bother anyone, are polite. What is the problem? This shelter has been in the works for quite a while. Why now, when it is finally getting ready to open, does Stroh have issues? Is he really speaking for the merchants or just for himself and his views?

    The shelter is much needed.

  5. ” Bob Stroh says that “[t]here are locations that would be more helpful to the community than locating it right smack in the middle of the most vibrant commercial district”

    Keep talkin`, Bob, and you won`t need to worry about the “most vibrant commercial district.”

  6. Where would he like it to be? In Culpepper or Lynchburg? This is classic “not in my backyard” talk. I guess he thinks the very second the shelter opens, business will drop off 50%. Does he not think that when the shelter is opened that these folks will have a place to go? That they will be off of the mall to go and take a shower, eat, look for a job to get them out of poverty? Has he no feelings of soial justice? Or looking out for each other? Oh wait-is he a REPUBLICAN???

  7. Yeah, it seems a lot of folks either weren’t here, or don’t remember the DT mall back in the ‘80s. Believe me, it was a bit more rough-and-tumble than it is now. I remember you couldn’t get any gourmet coffee, or sorbet on a stick back then. Plus there were no pilates studios, Persian rug stores, or 5-star restaurants in sight. There were a just a few essentials and the riff-raff ruled at night. I think for all the years Bob Stroh has been involved with the CPC and the downtown merchants that he deserves some kudos for being an excellent steward and the driving force behind some of the most progressive and beneficial improvements on the DTM.

  8. I WANT the homeless right here downtown where I will have to see them every day. They are part of this community and that is a reality. I don’t want to live in some artificial Disneyland where we pretend that the homeless don’t exist and that they aren’t a part of society. I want my kids to ask me why that man with no legs is sitting there on the pavement with a sign in front of him.

    Only by making them visible is there going to be any desire on the part of the general public to do anything about the problem of homelessness.

    Pardon me, Mr. Stroh, for thinking that this is far more important than your selfish desire to not have to look at your less fortunate neighbors.

  9. Yay, Jack. I want to believe, and I think I do believe, that most Charlottesvillians can deal with the sight of homeless people. I guess there are people who fear the DTM for that reason, but do we really want to cater to those people?

    Personally, I find Fashion Square Mall scarier than the DTM.

  10. “Remembering,” I appreciate the sentiment but your facts are wrong. There were two gourmet coffee places (Coffee Exchange and the one on 4th St. NE, name still in sidewalk I think), two top-rated restaurants (C&O – famous NYT stars review, Tokyo Rose – now Escafe), oriental carpet store(s) I’m pretty sure, but yes, we had no gelato or sorbet. And yes it was scary at night (big mobs at the east end, crowds you never see these days), and about half the shops were vacant. Rather than Bob Stroh, I think credit for the changes goes to city planner Satyendra Huja and various people who ran interesting businesses downtown: Ferdy [Austrian last name] opening LeSnail next to Trailways for one, and people on and off city council who were criticized at the time for all living downtown, including John Conover & Virginia Daugherty who ran Papercraft Printing. Then there’s Vinegar Hill/Fellinis, Williams Corner, Millers, etc. Lots of people who kept the faith when the bricks went in and crime was an ever-present concern.

    There are still small business conservatives downtown who will tell you the bricking of Main Street to create the Downtown Mall was so destructive that it has *still* not paid for itself. The resentment tone does not really fly for me. Current issues more important.

  11. The name of that other coffee shop, colfer, was The Roasted Bean. It pre-dated the Coffee Exchange and was a nice little spot. I washed dishes there when I was a youngster. Thanks for the memories.

  12. And I’m sure if there were a homeless shelter replete with the attendant booze/drugs, bizarre behavior, panhandling, etc. set to open next door to all y’all you’d be just as high-minded and welcoming as you are when it’s someone else’s problem.

  13. Falstaff:
    My previous office was on the Mall for five years. My current office is one block off the downtown mall. My guess is that many of the posters on this topic are also involved in working and/or living on or near the Mall. I think that many people are a lot more welcoming than you realize.

  14. I hear ya, Lisa, and I’m not necessarily arguing that locating the COMPASS shelter just off the mall is a bad idea. I’m merely pointng out that to blithely dismiss the legitimate concerns of downtown business owners as the kvetching of the landed gentry horrified that the peasants be allowed so close to their estates, as it were, (wow, that metaphor really doesn’t work that well, but I trust you know what I mean) is a little, well, uncharitable. They’ve got an interest in protecting their investment and a right to be heard. It’s easy to demonize them as the rich and powerful turning their backs on the needy and helpless, but I think that’s a little simplistic.

  15. I wholeheartedly second Jack’s sentiments. I read the story the other day and it really pissed me off. Especially the BS about being a draw for out of area homeless. God forbid something like reality interfere with the playground of the affluent that they have attempted to cultivate.

  16. Well, I can see and appreciate Jack’s point too, but instead of the “no-legs” question, what’s your answer when your kid asks, “Daddy, how come that man is pee-peeing in the alley? Doesn’t he have a bathroom?” Do you really want to field that one? But wait, I almost forgot. We’ve got some new public bathrooms in the Transit Center. Haven’t been in there yet, but I bet they’re nice!

  17. Doesn’t he have a bathroom?” Do you really want to field that one?

    That’s what the homeless day center will prevent. Anyway, that guy peeing in the ally is just as likely to be a uva student as it is a homeless guy. Homeless people don’t have the market cornered on public urination.

  18. Remembering asks, “what’s your answer when your kid asks, ‘Daddy, how come that man is pee-peeing in the alley?'”

    Well, how about “that’s too bad, but sometimes people who don’t have a home have to go pee-pee outside and sometimes they don’t choose the most appropriate places. Let’s not stare, though, because that’s rude.”

    Or something like that. It’s not all that hard. It opens the door to discussions about homelessness, about the dearth of public facilities, about alcoholism and mental illness, poverty, etc.

  19. And I’m sure if there were a homeless shelter replete with the attendant booze/drugs, bizarre behavior, panhandling, etc. set to open next door to all y’all you’d be just as high-minded and welcoming as you are when it’s someone else’s problem.

    As a matter of fact, yes. For many years I ran a business exactly one block away from the COMPASS Day Shelter — the view out of my window consisted of that church. And for even longer I lived on North First Street, walking past that church on the way to work every day. Though I no longer live or work on the Downtown Mall, I can say without a moment’s hesitation that I would be perfectly happy to continue to live and work just a block away from COMPASS.

  20. My family’s business is located a block off the mall. I’m more than happy to have a homeless shelter for a downtown neighbor. I have been working and playing on the downtown mall since I was about 13 years old (I’m 29 now).

    The homeless, the crazy and the eccentrics have always been a part of the landscape here and I’ve never had a problem with any of them. This is true today as a white collar business-owner and it was true when I was scooping ice cream at Chaps and selling tickets at the Jefferson Theater. The worst problem I ever had with a homeless person was when some of them wanted to hang out and get warm inside during the winter when they weren’t buying anything.

    The one time I’ve seen someone taking a leak in plain sight was a deeply retarded man from Region 10 who was walking down the mall in front of the Omni and just letting it go as he went. Tony Millionaire has written about this phenomenon as ‘the piss walk.’ I saw the same guy trying to catch sparrows with his hands a few years later.

  21. Just as an aside comment, I remember when the “Drop In Center” was right across the street from the library on Third St. and there were no problems then. Kind of made it easier to go to the Catholic Church for the “Food Bank” stuff and the free lunches on Thursdays. Boy, I’ll never eat peanut butter again.

  22. I’ve never been homeless, but there have been plenty of times nature has called and there was a convenient alley nearby. I was out at Atomic Burrito several months ago and found a line of about 15 waiting to pee, so I slipped out to the alley between the Jefferson and Live Arts. Freaking security lights came on every step of the way!!!

    One of my favorite memories is from a day in the late 80’s when a co-worker and I slipped away from one of those gourmet coffee shops and sat on a step on the east end of the Mall drinking whiskey out of a paper bag. We had jobs and homes and we had a hell of a good time that day.

    I’m sure some will disagree, but I don’t think a little harmless lawlessness is such a terrible thing. A little disorder and a decent supply of diversity have always been what was interesting about C’ville. This town has been overrun by a dismally boring wave of mainstream white people in the past few years. The homeless are the only ones “keeping it real” in downtown any more.

  23. I used to work P/T in the JMRL Central branch library, and if you want to see some bums, come in there on a cold winter evening. Most of ’em were pretty calm because they didn’t want to get kicked out, but they might reek to high heaven sometimes (bless their hearts). But yeah, the library is the main bathroom stop on the downtown mall. I used to call that downstairs Men’s room a “bio-hazard”. I didn’t even like to go in there to turn off the light at closing time. Saw one guy practically taking a bath in the sink one time. Guess that’s better than just letting yourself go. I don’t have a problem with reasonable accommodations for those less fortunate. That’s what makes C’ville a humane place to be.

  24. But sweet Falstaff, the concerns *aren’t* legitimate. That’s what we’re saying. If services for the homeless be your source of worry, then banish them all to Crozet. Our homeless are not even a blip on the radar for any tourist or shopper who’s ever dealt with the homelessness of a big city. The best place to have a homeless shelter is close to where the homeless already hang out. The homeless are here downtown already. So nu, why oppose a place for them to go to on a hot summer day besides the front of Caspari?

    “public intoxication”…that’s a fucking laugh riot. Since when have all these servers of alcohol in outdoor fenced-in areas given a fuck about public intoxication? I guess if your clothes are from Banana Republic instead of the Salvation Army, then your public drunkenness doesn’t bother so much.

  25. Can anybody come up with anything that has happened Downtown in the past 20 years that some group of “downtown business owners” haven’t been pissed about? Whether it’s Fridays after 5, the Ice Park, the Omni, sidewalk cafes, need more vehicle crossings, street musicians, mall rats, the homeless, vehicle crossings are killing business, not enough cops, too many coffeehouses, too many cops, you damn kids get away from my store, amphitheater’s too small, Pavilion’s too big, pavers are too far apart, music’s too loud (Jewish Mother, RIP), pavers are too close together, if more people would come on Sundays they’d open up/if they’d open up more people would come on Sundays…it’s always sumpin!

  26. In regards to the above comment about complaining; I agree. And it’s not just the DT merchants. I think by and large, C’villians don’t know how good they’ve got it. So the bitchin’ just keeps a-comin’.

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