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Councilman Ellis Wants Solutions To Fredericksburg Homeless Problems

Councilman Brad Ellis wants a taskforce to discuss the impacts the homeless population has on Fredericksburg residents and to come up with recommendations, citing a number of complaints from constituents as the impetus for his call for action.

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.

Brad Ellis March 14, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Thank you to those who have actually provided ideas and expressed concerns on Patch and via emails that will be used in developing a solution to this problem. I will not entertain comments that are derisive toward me personally. For the record, I have volunteered my time at soup kitchens to feed homeless, I've supported funding for Micah Ministries and I've volunteered at the cold weather shelter during the Winter. I've talked to many homeless people and I've heard from many residents and business owners so I am fully aware of the multiple perspectives surrounding this issue, which is exactly why I decided to work toward getting people from various backgrounds around the table to discuss the homeless impact to our city. Nothing put forth has been anecdotal but everything ive stated comes from my personal interactions with homeless and others' as well.
CitzenOfFredericksburg March 14, 2012 at 06:21 PM
If you read the article it does tell you that we do have a shelter for the homeless. Most of the homeless that are the issue refuse to go to the shelter because they want to drink or cause problems and will not accept the help of the shelter, which does great work of trying to get the homeless back on their feet. Before you go bashing Fredericksburg of having a place for dogs and cats, and not people, the article clearly tells you we have a shelter. Then just because you are homeless doees not mean you should get to throw common courtisy out the window. It is true that downtown is a very uncomfortable place in the early mornings and later nights now. I have had to walk places in the early mornings downtown and the looks and attitude of some of the homeless downtown makes the city one that if I did not live here, I would not come back. I love downtown and this is a sad turn of events.
Andrew Longman March 14, 2012 at 07:24 PM
This type of bum behavior is typical in Richmond.
Misunderstood March 14, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Articles like this one portray the entire homeless community in a bad light. We don't like it when people leave garbage everywhere, attack people, panhandle, and lay around drunk all day. With the SOLE exception being panhandling, everyone in the Fredericksburg City area has seen garbage on the sides of roads carelessly thrown out of car windows, all over city streets and sidewalks following First Friday or most Friday and Saturday nights, loud (walk intrusive) arguments or fights, and at least known one or two people that have a mental illness that is not currently well-managed. Everyone litters, not just the homeless. Everyone gets into arguments or fights, not just the homeless. Only mentally unstable people attack innocent people for no reason. The people you have found to take notice of are the people that even the majority of the homeless population don't care for, or want near them. No one wants to camp near a man who might kill you in your sleep, no one wants to have to deal with the hassle of handling the implications of his mental instability (i.e. the cops). As for the garbage, well, my camp's one of the cleanest and well-maintained so I have no idea about others actions as far as cleanliness is concerned. As for the drunks under the Rt 1 bridge and the Canal Path, didn't City Council come up with some sort of interdiction program to lessen the impact of drunks on the street? Maybe you should start putting some more people on it...
Jumana March 14, 2012 at 09:10 PM
Camping is against the law here! "Misunderstood" has some points. No one should litter, its really unseemly. However, "misunderstood"'s clean encampment is perhaps well run, but illegal all the same. There is a homeless man in our area who doesn't bother anyone. He is fine. However, there many, many new transients arriving here due to the services, or at least the perception that Fredericksburg will care for them.
Misunderstood March 14, 2012 at 09:31 PM
This homeless man in your area... where does he live? If he's in a camp, he's illegal too. Why is he fine but the rest of us are not?
Andrew Longman March 14, 2012 at 09:32 PM
It comes down to two issues: Do you want to Help the Homeless? or Do you want to Remove the Homeless? Helping invites more homeless to the area; as conditions in Fredericksburg become better for them than conditions in surrounding areas. Removing makes them someone else's problem, but then, is that ethically fair to the county or state wherever they end up? The solution is probably somewhere in between.
Misunderstood March 14, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Then your solution is to remove the homeless that the City doesn't "feel like" caring for, and allow all the ones that can fill up the homeless shelter.
Karen R March 14, 2012 at 09:53 PM
For all of you who are for the homeless, evedentually you have never been in a town like Flint, MI to see what happens once law abiding tax paying citizens are scared away. So keep on campaigning for all these homeless people and I will see you back on here in a few years complaining about how bad Fredericksburg has become. There are two types of homeless people, the ones who are temporarily homeless, they usually go to the homeless shelter where there are rules, no drinking, no drugs, in the door by 7 pm. In bed by 10 pm. Up and out the door looking for a job if you do not have one. The homeless people who do not want to follow the rules are usually not temporary homeless, it is their lifestyle. They do not want a warm bed in a homeless shelter, they are alcoholics and drug addicts and people who cannot or do not choose to function in a "normal" society setting. They are loud and rude and steal, I suppose you have not noticed how much the crime has increased in Fredericksburg in the last year. They litter and harrass people for money and some are mentally ill and off their meds or unstable and those are dangerous, whether you want to admit it or not. You who want the homeless here and preach to us who don't, need to go downtown and have a good look and then drive though the bad part of Richmond or have your child chased home by a ranting homeless person or your personal items stolen and then we will talk.
Andrew Longman March 14, 2012 at 10:34 PM
@Misunderstood I think that's the most economically viable solution. To build on what @Jumana was saying, there is an acceptable level of homelessness, and that acceptable level directly correlates with how the homeless are perceived, as well as how the current perception differs from a previous perception. If the general conception is that they keep to themselves and don't bother anyone, the working society will allow a greater capacity of homeless. If the perception is that they are dangerous, on drugs, are mentally unstable, are disorderly, liter, ect (and im not saying that they are or are not), then the level of acceptable homelessness decreases drastically. I live primarily in Richmond, where its common to see several homeless a day, and stories of them chasing people or swearing at strangers is common; no one calls the cops, government doesn't get involved, no one thinks twice about it. This is an issue in Fredericksburg because the perception of the acceptable level of homelessness is changing. @Andrew_Longman
Teri Irvine March 15, 2012 at 02:09 AM
As a family educator and early childhood instructor, I have a deep concern for those that are the most vulnerable and have no voice when it comes to setting policies - CHILDREN. We are seeing record numbers of homeless families and growing numbers of families unable to find affordable housing. "The National Low Income Housing Coalition recently released a sobering report, which concluded that nationally, more than 25 percent of all renter households now must spend over half their income on housing related costs. Those problems become multiplied and magnified when factoring in low-income renters who do not receive any government subsidies. Housing affordability problems disproportionately impact the lowest American households … in 2010, 53 percent of the 19.4 million cost-burdened renter households were households earning under $20,000 a year,” While the focus here is on high-risk populations and behaviors my caution is that we don't lump all people together when entering into this conversation so that children and families will not be adversely affected. While housing is essential to ending homelessness, housing alone is not sufficient. We need to provide housing in combination with supports and services. I would encourage you to read the state report card on homelessness for Virginia as you continue this conversation. http://www.homelesschildrenamerica.org/pdf/report_cards/short/va_short.pdf Teri Irvine
Dan Telvock (Editor) March 15, 2012 at 04:20 AM
Teri, thanks for your comments. Are you a city resident? If so, could you email me at dan.telvock@patch.com? I really appreciate all of the comments here. Mr. Ellis should not be attacked for his comments Tuesday night and for the most part, people have been respectful. He's an elected official and he has a job to do. I have spoken with some of the people who have contacted him, and their concerns are real. I am not going to discount anyone's concerns or opinions. I live downtown. I see what's going on. And it's a good step to see an elected official raise these problems to a level where something might actually get done to benefit all. Maybe it will be a complete flop. Who knows. But I hope more people express their feelings and opinions here in a respectful manner, because that's what Fredericksburg Patch is all about. I really want to hear from more people and I am sure Brad does, too.
Frdxbrg March 16, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Micah is the problem.
Dan Telvock (Editor) March 16, 2012 at 12:48 AM
Why is Micah the problem?
Frdxbrg March 16, 2012 at 03:25 AM
Homeless guy from Virginia Beach is heading north. While passing thru Fburg he gets a tent and sleeping bag from Micah and they tell him they will help him get housing. He is subsequently charged with setting a fire. He tells Judge he is going to stay around here because Micah is going to help him get housing. Another homeless criminal to loiter about downtown - thanks Micah!
Dan Telvock (Editor) March 16, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Name of this homeless person so I can verify the case? email me at dan.telvock@patch.com I'm not too familiar with what Micah does with the tax money it gets but I do know the director of Micah has a blog on the Free Lance Star, she is a former FLS reporter and since they've located downtown the homeless population here has more than doubled. It's a nonprofit, so its financials are public, but tracking how the money is spent needs to be done. Question: How does Micah help the homeless, how many homeless do they get jobs and housing and how many does Micah bring here and give them a tent and sleeping bag for city woods? There is a woman who speaks every week at Council meetings saying that Micah can't pay its heating bill this year. That tells me Micah doesn't have a whole lot of money to really help homeless people, so is most of this help outreach advice?
Dan Telvock (Editor) March 16, 2012 at 03:42 AM
WHy can't Micah pay its heating bill: Annual Revenue & Expenses Additional Information Fiscal Year Starting: Jan 01, 2009 Fiscal Year Ending: Dec 31, 2009 Revenue Total Revenue $608,560 Expenses Total Expenses $367,201
Dan Telvock (Editor) March 16, 2012 at 04:01 AM
I pulled Micah's most recent tax forms and it shows the help it provides and the salaries and the director isn't making that much at all. But I just pulled it and its 32 pages so I will look through and try to figure out what is happening with the money and why there was problems with keeping the heat on this year.
Dan Telvock (Editor) March 16, 2012 at 04:17 AM
Paid rent for 17 people $14,262 special shelter for one person $13,904 transit help for 26 people, $7882 ID help for 12 people, $45 prescription drugs for 133 people, $2080 food for 1132 people, $6373 clothing for 2 people $154 tents and sleeping bags for 500 people $7617 Are 500 people sleeping in the woods in the city?
Andrew Longman March 16, 2012 at 06:12 AM
Wow. Maybe those tents and sleeping bags should also come with an interstate bus ticket... Micah can afford it; if I'm reading this right they have an extra $240K to burn (no pun intended).
Dan Telvock (Editor) March 16, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Andrew, not so fast. I'm not done with looking through the tax forms, and this is just basic info without much context, so I don't want to draw too many conclusions right now. In fact, I learned a few new things today that could show us that Micah doesn't have that much money in "cash" right now. Stay tuned.
Kcorrie March 17, 2012 at 12:13 AM
As a former homeless person now in housing (thanks to Micah and their help - not their money), please keep in mind that more than 1 sleeping bag is usually used when sleeping in a tent. During winter, generally 1 bag is used on the bottom and at least 1 to cover. Also should your tent get raided by the police it, and the contents are destroyed, leaving you with nothing and having to start all over. Micah has helped me and almost everyone I know. They have helped countless people with getting much needed medical attention and ensuring people don't go hungry. Their emphasis is on self-reliance, not handouts. And Mr. Longman, your burn pun is not funny.
buppsK9 March 17, 2012 at 04:27 AM
There is undoubtedly a problem in this town. My husband and I moved here about a year and a half ago from a major city and are blown away by the number of homeless people in this town. I truly feel there is no where I can go with out encountering them. There is an encampment where we live, there is another encampment where I work, and when ever we go out for a walk there they are. I am approached for money on the street, at the bank, at the gas station and out for a walk. Recently while walking my dog at the path behind the connivence center I was followed by a homeless man who appeared to be on drugs or mentally unstable. With the Micah center offering the services they do what are these people pan handeling for? Are there not vagrancy or pan handeling laws in Fredericksburg? There needs to be a better way of keeping track of the homeless who are sex offenders and criminals.
Dan Telvock (Editor) March 23, 2012 at 12:22 AM
According to Micah's executive director, they have never had trouble paying the heating bill. The woman who has spoken at every city council meeting the past four weeks and said that Micah has told her that they cannot pay the heating bill apparently did not have correct information or misunderstood someone. Also, the tax records later disclose that about $200,000 of Micah's asset money is tied up in art that they cannot sell it right away, and there is no guarantee how much they will get for the artwork.
Croasdale March 29, 2012 at 03:15 AM
 As a owner of a business downtown... Also as a daughter of a former business owner of 10 years in downtown Fredericksburg. That makes 15 years of watching life and business downtown.... The homeless are becoming more of the population than residents and shoppers. NEVER in the past 15 years have I've seen this amount of homeless. I could always remember the same had full of homeless untill... The last 3 years. I'm sorry to say that less than half of the people who take advantage of the  Micha house are using the facilitiy for what it is attended for..... I watch them every day... Alot of them make their stops at a local convience store located on Caroline st to purchase large bottles in brown paper bags......  Not to mention not a week has gone buy in 3 years .... That I have not been asked for money/everything under the sun. Including my client's.
Croasdale March 29, 2012 at 03:17 AM
What bothers me the most is to have my client ask me... "can you watch me walk to my car". Or " are you scared being in here"?  Those comments come from my client's observations  just from the short walk from their car!  I am all for helping people who want help to change. That is why we have the Thurman Brisem homeless shelter. A place for local homeless persons. A place where you have to blow in a breathalyzer and pass drug tests to continue to receive all the comforts that we all work so hard for..... A place that does not advertise in flyers that I know have been distributed more than 5 states thru  the homeless population. The problem is we are attracting a whole new community that are not native to this area at all!!! I have personally watched a business next door to Micha close...  Not quite sure if Micha had anything to do with it but... Im sorry to say.  "I don't think parents feel so comfortable going to a children's dress store that is next to a homeless shelter". Not to mentioned the hoard that hang out in the front smoking....  People do not feel safe downtown!
Croasdale March 29, 2012 at 03:18 AM
I don't feel safe downtown!  If the Micha house would follow the rules of the Thurman Brisem homeless shelter.. Drug and alcohol testing. I feel it would solve the problem... It's not the location.... It's the standards... If a person truly wants to change for a better life... drug and alcohol testing should not be a problem... If they need help Fredericksburg has tons of free abuse programs.  Get them enrolled. If they can't do that... Should we continue enable their problem? I do know you have to have lived in Fredericksburg or the surrounding area to stay a the Thurman Brisem homeless shelter. The reason Micha is here in Fredericksburg is to help all homeless but.... No drug or alcohol testing!!! When do draw a line on enabling drug/alcohol problems to none natives or helping those who truly want and need it?
Citizen March 29, 2012 at 12:02 PM
Well put Croasdale...well put.
cupcake December 01, 2012 at 10:12 PM
i use to be homeless ok for 25 years everyone in the city of fredericksburg know who i'm i walked around in pink daisy dukes ok u want to talk about rude people is ya''ll when homeless want to make money try to help you or anyone shovel snow u curse at us that annoying and rudeness take that to council karen
cupcake December 01, 2012 at 10:17 PM
that a good thing is that ellis think is all homeless is doing teh beers he have to get up out of his bed and walked down caroline street seing people getting drunk at the bars yelling but we get blame for any action ellis need to worry about putting housing on the homeless then working on the street if he want to get the homeless off the street is one solution stop putting money on the streets fixing the streets put teh homeless in a building to get help looking for jobs

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