City Pondering Problem Homeless People Downtown

The city is having a tough time figuring out what to do about a small number of problematic homeless people downtown, Graham Moomaw wrote in the Daily Progress on Saturday. There are a few homeless people, most apparently not locals (unlike most of the area’s homeless population), who engage in drunken fights and nasty panhandling downtown, and downtown business owners are sick of it. It’s particularly problematic around Central Place. In response, the city has removed the benches from that block and stationed a police officer there on weekdays. As the owner of Zocalo told City Council, the problem isn’t homelessness, it’s people actually violating the law.

This reminds me of the periodic demands to beef up the city’s noise ordinance. It’s always in response to a single restaurant or venue that’s behaving badly, but because a law can’t target just one venue, we’ve got to talk about laws that affect everybody.

19 Responses to “City Pondering Problem Homeless People Downtown”

  • perlogik says:

    Hey Waldo perhaps it’s time to bring back the curfew? (slinks away quietly)

  • Patience says:

    I understand why a group of rowdy people are unwelcome on the mall, and if you ask me, the area in front of Central Place has always been sketchy. I sympathize with the business owners, who have a legitimate concern that these people are scaring away customers. Taking away benches, though? What if you are elderly, what if you need to sit down to nurse a baby, what if you’ve just walked a long way to get downtown and your legs are tired? The only way you can sit is to go into a restaurant and buy something. It seems wrong. And anyway, from one of the articles I’ve read, the difficult folks are just sitting on the ground now.

  • Jim Duncan says:

    @Patience – if they’re sitting on the ground, the City should probably remove the bricks, right?

  • Wes says:

    Maybe the city should hire some aggressive street performers to chase the aggressive panhandlers away. Nothing says “stand back” better than a chain saw juggler.

  • your real name says:

    One of those Mennonite choirs from over in the Valley ought to do the trick.

  • Patience says:

    @Jim Duncan – Or they could just bulldoze the mall. That would definitely solve the problem.

  • Janet says:

    Taking away the benches just creates more problems for everyone. Do the merchants realize how much business they lose because people already shop elsewhere–where there is free parking and places to sit? Right now there is nothing attractive about the downtown mall.

  • Jack says:

    I don’t understand the conundrum here. People are breaking the law repeatedly and publicly. Arrest them, convict them and put them in prison. We have a very large, expensive system of police officers, courts and prisons in place that is already equipped to deal with this problem.

    Is the DA dropping the ball here?

  • belmont yo says:

    If there was any justice in the world, people breaking the vagrancy and panhandling laws on the mall would be bussed to Rita Mae Brown’s estate up on Garth, where she and her talking cat would be forced to ladle them three meals a day. Hopefully, she would take this time to consider her comments about there being no economic disparity in this area, but at the very least, it would prevent her, at least temporarily, from writing anything.

    When are we gonna get a city council that thinks outside the box. Its two birds with one stone here, and I don’t see a downside.

  • Will says:

    We should follow China’s lead and festoon the places favored by the homeless with sharp, concrete spikes. Undoubtedly, Thomas Friedman would approve.

  • Cville Eye says:

    There appears to be more seating on the Mall than any other commercial area in the city. If people wish to sit down try the many chairs in front of city Hall. If the weather is bad, try the transit center, Lee or Jackson Parks. Then there is always the homeless recreation center on Market Street and the Pavilion. There is nothing right or wrong about the City’s providing seating downtown and, being old, I never have trouble sitting down and resting.

  • Cville Eye says:

    Why does everyone describe the troublemakers as homeless? There has been quite a few people causing problems through the years that are not homeless. Just because a person choose to come downtown and drink with his friends does not mean he doesn’t have anywhere to sleep at night.

  • james says:

    “Cville Eye” raises a very important point here, one that I’m surprised I haven’t seen pointed out more often: this a problem which is perhaps related to, but is by no means identical to, homelessness.

    There are plenty of homeless people who are employed, polite, functioning members of society, just as many of the people who cause trouble for everyone on the mall do in fact have places to sleep.

    Painting them all with the same brush only muddles the issue, increases the unfortunate stigma about the homeless, and distracts us from the real issue at hand.

    Jack’s comment cuts to the heart of the matter: if these people are breaking a good and just law, they should be ticketed (or, if necessary, arrested) and charged.

    to which I would add: if these people are NOT breaking any laws, then they should be left alone. I guess it’s unfortunate that poor people make wealthy shoppers uncomfortable, but they have a right to be there too. a public space is for public use: it’s not just a conduit for shopping, no matter how much many in power (and wealth) in the city would like it to be.

    and, obviously, if our current laws are inaccurate or useless — either because they prevent us from dealing with a legitimate societal problem, or because they criminalize the harmless activities of the needy, they should be revised. but I expect many of us will fall on different sides of the debate about which is which when the time comes to do that.

  • Will says:

    Perhaps a new moniker is in order for those currently dominating the loitering, fighting, swearing, and panhandling industries downtown. I humbly submit “The Charlottesville All-Stars” as a new name.

  • Eric says:

    Many of these folks downtown aren’t really homeless. That’s probably the most aggravating concern.

  • Cville Eye says:

    I wonder why people think they can look at someone and tell he’s homeless. If you try to go by their dress, it would probably seem that at least half of the people down there would fit the bill, especially the high schoolers who are down there on Fridays.

  • HollowBoy says:

    Doubtless some of the troublemakers are homeless, and others are not.If they break the law arrest them.Simple as that.
    And yes, the city does add to the problem by its policies, like allowing the so-called “Haven” downtown. Charlottesville has gotten the reputation as the “warm and fuzzy” place to go among a certain element.

  • Bruce says:

    We call the troublemakers “homeless people” because it’s politically incorrect to use the more accurate term, “bums”.

  • Cville Eye says:

    @HollowBoy, actually since there is still at least one private “club” downtown and several recreation centers in the downtown there is no legal way the City to prevent the Haven from opening. All they had to do is call themselves a church or other religious institution.
    “Doubtless some of the troublemakers are homeless, and others are not.If they break the law arrest them.Simple as that.” And as simple as that he will be released. One of the first occupants of Norris Hall at 4th and Preston bragged that he had been arrested over 200 times.
    @Bruce, “bum” has several meanings. Which are you using?

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