Charlottesville is reimposing its curfew at Market Street Park.
City Manager Sam Sanders’ Friday announcement that the park will resume its previous operating hours of 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Oct. 21 means the homeless men and women who have been living in an encampment there for the past three weeks must find other shelter or risk being kicked out or cited for trespassing.
Sanders lifted the curfew at the park after Charlottesville residents reported to City Council that police had mistreated at least two homeless men at the park. Since then, 35 tents have been erected there.
Some of those living at the park today have said they have no intention of leaving.
Darnell Burton, who said he was among a small group that discreetly resided at the park even before the curfew was lifted, vowed to fight back and keep his tent up.
Burton told The Daily Progress on Friday afternoon that the city doesn’t have the legal authority to exile the park’s tenants.
“Show me in the Code of Virginia where you can’t have tents when the park is open,” he said. “We’re going to stay here.”
That’s in spite of the fact that the city has said its decision to reinstate the park’s prior operating hours was made because additional overnight beds would be made available for the homeless.
People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry, or PACEM, announced Thursday it would be opening its overnight shelter operations early this year. The group has operated an emergency shelter during the coldest months of the year in Charlottesville since 2004.
“Our regular open was scheduled for Oct 28,” Liz Yohn, PACEM operations manager, told The Daily Progress on Friday. “Our season will now run Oct 21-Apr 12.”
PACEM has 50 beds between two sites, Yohn said, and provides those accommodations and other resources in partnership with the city, Charlottesville First United Methodist Church, the Salvation Army and Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness , or PATH, a federal, state and local partnership that provides outreach and assistance to adults with serious mental illness who are experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of becoming homeless.
“We meet folks where they are,” PACEM board Chair Cliff Haury said in a Thursday statement, “and we adapt to what they need. Right now, they’re in the park and need shelter — that’s something we already know how to address.”
The city said it will be reimposing the curfew at the park to coincide with PACEM’s early opening on Oct. 21.
“The City of Charlottesville will resume operating hours in Market Street Park at 11:00 pm the same day,” the city said in its Friday statement.
The city added that there are also beds available at the Salvation Army shelter on Ridge Street.
The Salvation Army told The Daily Progress on Friday it had four available beds at its shelter in the city.
“There are four here,” Brenda Smith, Salvation Army shelter manager, said. “One on the men and three on the women.”
Echoing Yohn’s remarks, Smith said her organization would be working closely with PACEM once it opens on Oct. 21.
“I will be obliging them with 16 additional people to house. Eight for the men, eight for the women,” Smith said. “They won’t have a bed, but they will be in the lounge.”
Sanders said the city will continue to engage with groups that provide resources, including shelter, to the homeless population in Charlottesville as the park resumes normal hours and the men and women there move on.
“I have asked our staff to engage with various service providers to strategize ways we can support this process so that anyone in the park will receive the assistance that they need to ensure a smooth transition. This work has already begun and will continue through whatever period necessary,” Sanders said in his Friday statement.
The Daily Progress reached out to Ashley Marshall, deputy city manager, for clarity on what other service providers the city is working with but did not receive a response by press time.
Sanders decided to lift the curfew at the park three weeks ago after residents reported to City Council that at least two homeless men at the park had been mistreated by the city’s police — one kicked and another arrested for trespassing — and that officers were intentionally targeting the Black population at the park.
After hearing what he called the “disgusting and disturbing actions” alleged of his officers, Charlottesville Police Chief Michael Kochis launched an internal investigation that found those reports were groundless.
“It has been determined that the allegations that our officers have been targeting Black, unhoused individuals with violence, and that officers have only been asking Black, unhoused individuals to leave the park, are unfounded and simply did not occur,” Kochis said at a Sept. 28 press conference.
After reviewing bodycam footage, Kochis determined that a homeless man sleeping on the ground at the park after the 11 p.m. curfew the night of Sept. 16 had not been kicked; he described the contact made between an officer’s foot and the man a “touch.”
Bodycam footage of the Sept. 12 arrest of Roscoe Boxley at the park shows the man sitting in a chair on one of the park’s walkways, fully aware that he is about to violate the 11 p.m. curfew.
“We don’t got nowhere to go. Nowhere at all. Everywhere we’ve been y’all have ran us off,” Boxley says to the officers.
One officer asks if Boxley had tried finding a bed at the Salvation Army.
“Do you think I’d be out here if I could get into Salvation Army?” Boxley asks. “You’re going to lock me up right now because I ain’t going nowhere, and the only way I’m going somewhere is if you lock me up. I’m going to be heard one way or another.”
At 11 p.m., Boxley stood from his chair and immediately put his hands behind his back, waiting to be arrested.
The number of people in Charlottesville who have fallen into homelessness has grown by 25% since 2018, according to the Blue Ridge Area Coalition for the Homeless, which coordinates and leads collaborative efforts to address homelessness.
At the Sept. 28 press conference, Kochis suggested that at the root of the homeless crisis in Charlottesville is not the police response to a park curfew but the resources available to those in need.
“I’m just going to be frank. I’m sorry, but I’ve worked in two other jurisdictions, the city of Alexandria and the town of Warrenton,” he said. “Both had a 24-hour shelter with wraparound services, and I’ve never been in a jurisdiction that hasn’t had either.”
Directly across the street from Market Street Park sits the Haven, a homeless resource center in the former First Christian Church which has been in operation since 2010. But the Haven only provides shelter services during the daytime, and the city prohibits it from operating at night.
Executive Director Anna Mendez told The Daily Progress that while the city has indicated a willingness to reconsider that decision, it is still in the very early stages of that conversation.
“It would be incredibly premature to put any type of timeline on it,” Mendez said.
The Haven announced it will be hosting a “Housing First & Homelessness” event this coming Monday.
“Have you grappled with the questions, ‘Are there evidence-based solutions to homelessness? What are we doing locally to end homelessness, and what challenges do we face in implementing these efforts in our community?’ If so, join us Monday,” an invitation to the event reads.
Those interested in attending can register online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/housing-first-homelessness-in-charlottesville-tickets-727558877187?aff=oddtdtcreator.
Daily Progress reporter Hawes Spencer contributed to this story.