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Despite numbers trending down, Roanoke’s homeless population remains community concern

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 6:12 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - “You can get whatever you like,” sings Jamar Titus to a man sitting in a chair in front of him, as he works on the man’s haircut.

They’re inside a space that is normally used for ministry, but Monday, it was multi-functional.

“What about the goatee and mustache, keeping that? No? Mustache too? Okay.” Titus is able to accommodate most requests, and he does them all for free, as his clientele all share something in common.

“You know the Rescue Mission, there’s really one step, and it’s come to our doors. Our doors are always open and we’re always ready to accept you however you are,” said Community Outreach and Marketing Manager Kevin Berry.

Life stories are sometimes shared in the barber seat, but the dialogue is limited. The larger issue of homelessness, though, is talked about across the Star City.

“It is definitely an issue that generates a lot of calls for service in the community,” said Captain Andrew Pulley with the Roanoke City Police Department.

Pulley supervises a community engagement team for the police department.

“Whether they have preconceptions about why they’re homeless, they will call because they’re concerned, either for their well being or their own safety.”

In Roanoke, from January of 2020 to January of 2021, homelessness fell around 7 percent. That’s according to the Point-In-Time report by the Blue Ridge Interagency Council on Homelessness. To break that down further, there were about 250 people experiencing homelessness at the beginning of this year.

Pulley says there are times to call 911 regarding those experiencing homelessness, but being homeless is not a crime, and other resources do exist.

“What we’ve seen now is an increase in our services across the board, people staying in our shelter, taking our manna food boxes and eating meals at the Mission,” said Berry. At the Rescue Mission, there are 200 beds and about 120-150 are filled on a nightly basis. The numbers fluctuate though throughout the year, as does the demand for services.

And while something as simple as a haircut may not fix the larger issue, it can lead to a brighter day.

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