Harrisonburg holds meetings to address homelessness

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- This week, Mayor Deanna Reed called two meetings with Harrisonburg city leaders to address the issue of homelessness in Harrisonburg.

Reed considers addressing homelessness in the city one of her top priorities. One of the meetings included five groups representing the homeless, and the other with local stakeholders. Both included Harrisonburg police chief Eric English.

Reed tells WHSV that she's encouraged by the progress.

"We all agreed in both meetings that we wanted to work together," Reed said.

The meetings come on the heels of a dog found dead in Denton Park and complaints from business owners in the city, regarding loitering and trespassing on their properties.

"The mayor and myself had met with service providers before regarding this issue," English said. "Over the last few months it just started to seem to snowball."

One of the groups representing the homeless community was Our Community Place. OCP Director of Development and Administration Eric Olson-Getty says he feels hopeful after the meetings.

"But also there was a sense of urgency that we have a crisis going on here," Olson-Getty said.

Olson-Getty believes the city needs a shelter that accepts all homeless people and has resources provided. He understands the business owners' concerns but says making arrests won't make a difference.

"They might go to jail for the night, they won't be able to pay all those fans and they're just going to end up back on the street again," Olson-Getty said.

English says police are caught in the middle of the situation. Reed agrees.

"We know that if there's a few that are breaking the law, that we have to enforce the law," Reed said. "That's what Chief English is going to do."

All sides see a chance for a breakthrough.

"We are a welcoming compassionate community and that's the first thing I heard in both meetings," Reed said.

"The city has a choice in front of it," Olson-Getty said. "My hope and prayer is that Harrisonburg will provide people with and that we won't be arresting people who have no place to go."