Citing complaints of residents being approached or chased by homeless people and the increase of litter on city streets, Councilman Brad Ellis asked city staff to come up with a taskforce that will address these problems caused by the homeless in Fredericksburg once and for all.
"I realize this is a very sensitive issue and I also realize there are different perspectives from multiple stakeholders that must be considered," Ellis said during Tuesday night's City Council meeting.
But the complaints are mounting and Ellis said City Hall cannot stand by any longer without taking action. For example, Ellis said that there has been an increase of litter on city streets, especially near some of the places that feed the homeless. He said safety on the Canal Path and Smith Run Trail is a concern when constituents complain to him that they are being followed and approached by homeless people.
"Pedestrians walking their dogs along the canal path are being pursued by homeless and this is simply unacceptable," he said.
Maybe most alarming was Ellis said he spoke to a Great Oaks resident who told him she was chased from the Smith Run Trail by a homeless person who was screaming obscenities and threatening her.
"The resident was chased all the way to her home where the homeless woman started banging on the door and windows until, thankfully, the homeless person was chased away by a neighbor. Again, this is completely unacceptable," Ellis said.
Council members supported Ellis's call for action.
Councilwoman Bea Paolucci said after the meeting that she, too, has taken numerous complaints about the impacts that the homeless population is having on the city. She said solutions are needed and she has concerns about the homeless camps that are popping up in wooded land within the city.
City Council voted unanimously to have city staff create a plan for this taskforce and come up with recommendations of who should serve on the panel. Ellis offered his time to serve as the taskforce's chairman.
Editor's Note: What do you think City Council and this taskforce can do about the homeless population in Fredericksburg? What ideas do you have? Do you think the homeless population is getting unfair treatment or do you believe something must be done soon because the problems are getting out of hand? Let us know in the comments section.
Ellis's full statement is below:
I would like to take this opportunity to put forth a Call to Action to discuss the impact the homeless population has had and is having on our City and decide what can be done about it. I realize this is a very sensitive issue and I also realize there are different perspectives from multiple stakeholders that must be considered.
A few points I want to highlight from my own observations and from input from citizens are as follows:
- We have businesses that regularly feed the homeless and while this is certainly noble a couple of the impacts to the community are larger congregations of homeless persons hanging around these businesses and large amounts of trash from the food wrappings from these businesses being thrown on the ground without any regard for our community.
- Safety along the canal path and Smith Run trail is a concern amongst tax paying citizens who fund these recreational assets. Aggressiveness by the homeless population that hangs out around Smith Run trail has increased since we constructed this trail.
- Many of the homeless population prefer to hang out along Smith Run trail, in the Snowden Wetlands and under the Route 1 bridge rather than going to the shelter downtown because they prefer to drink alcohol, which is not permitted at the shelter. If you think this is my subjective opinion, I invite anyone to take a trip to either of these areas and note the vast accumulation of beer bottles, beer cans and alcohol bottles in these areas.
- Pedestrians walking their dogs along the canal path are being pursued by homeless and this is simply unacceptable.
- Recently, a resident of Great Oaks was chased out of Smith Run Trail by a homeless woman screaming obscenities and threatening mortal harm. The resident was chased all the way to her home where the homeless woman started banging on the door and windows until; thankfully, the homeless person was chased away by a neighbor. Again, this is completely unacceptable.
- I would also invite members of Council to visit the Megan’s Law website, which lists known violent sex offenders. One offender’s address is listed as “the woods behind Route 2 near a bridge”.
- Take a drive around town and note the tents emplaced in wooded areas…how many of these tents contain registered sex offenders? I am not purporting to generalize amongst our entire homeless population, however, one data point in this realm is more than enough for me to be concerned.
- Every area where homeless congregate contains vast amounts of trash
I realize there are differences in those who are temporarily homeless and need a helping hand to get back on their feet compared to the chronic homeless who simply subsist on City resources. Therefore, I would like to ask tonight that Council direct staff to stand up a Commission to discuss these impacts and determine what can and should be done to alleviate these issues. I would be more than happy to chair such a group. Again, the purpose of this group would be to discuss the issues from all perspectives then work to quantify the problem with empirical data so we can better understand the issue and then decide what can be done to better deal with this very important matter.
My initial thoughts on who should comprise this group are:
- At least one representative from the City Council
- Representatives from City Staff
- A representative from the police department
- A representative from Stafford County Board of Supervisors
- A representative from Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors
- At least one representative from our local churches
- Representatives from business owners
- A representative from Micah Ministries
- Representatives from various neighborhoods being affected
- A representative from the Thurman Brisben Center and Department of Social Services to name a few
Indeed this is a very difficult problem and it is a regional problem.
We have a civic duty to do our fair share in taking care of our homeless population. However, there is a fine line between being compassionate and incentivizing other homeless persons from surrounding counties to come to our city. My wife shouldn’t be afraid to go for a run by herself along the canal path or Smith Run Trail and right now she is. Hence, the return on investment from our trails has been reduced. Neighborhoods shouldn’t decline in property values because their perimeters are littered with trash put there by homeless persons. We should have a means for tracking the location of registered sex offenders that reside in tents set up within our city limits.
Thank you for listening to me on this matter and I would ask the Mayor to poll Council to see if we have a majority to direct staff to stand up this important group and, again, I’d be happy to lead it.