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Market Street Park homeless encampment cleared without incident

Any worry that the return of the 11 p.m. curfew at Charlottesville’s Market Street Park would result in arrests and altercations between police and the homeless population that recently set up camp there appears to have been unwarranted.

Eleven o’clock came and went without incident. The homeless encampment at the park has been cleared.

City Manager Sam Sanders lifted the park’s curfew in late September amid reports the city’s police had mistreated the homeless unlawfully staying overnight at the park — claims the police would later call “unfounded.”

In the wake of that decision, dozens of tents were erected and the area became a hub from the unhoused. As of last week there were as many as 35 tents at the park.

The encampment provoked strong reactions, both from those who worried about the health and safety of the park’s new residents and those who worried those new residents would bring criminal or other unwelcome activity to the surrounding area.

After Sanders decided to reimpose the 11p.m. curfew on Saturday night, some began to speculate there would be clashes between the homeless and police. Some of the homeless residents of the park told The Daily Progress they would refuse to leave of their own free will and they intended to fight the curfew.

The city closed off parking spaces surrounding Market Street Park on Saturday in anticipation of the curfew’s return.

But it doesn’t appear to have been needed. The people living at the park packed up their belongings Saturday and left before curfew.

While there was a group of some 20 protesters in the park earlier in the evening, there was never any trouble.

Protesters declined to speak with The Daily Progress.

They did however lead a chant: “No justice, no peace. Where are the police?”

There have been no reports of any arrests by Charlottesville police made either before or after the 11 p.m curfew.

A fire engine did respond to a reported “vegetation fire” in or near the park, but left after there was no fire found.

Earlier in the afternoon, The Daily Progress witnessed the homeless helping one another pack up their possessions as they prepared to find another place to stay that evening.

As she prepared to leave, Redelli Banks told The Daily Progress that the feelings of the homeless community were mixed. Some were content with the decision, others were upset. But she emphasized that any frustration was not regarding the park itself.

“They can have their park back. It wasn’t about their park; it was about us,” Banks said after packing up her tent. “It was about us having somewhere to stay.”

Some, but not all, of those at the park will be able to find shelter provided by People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry, or PACEM.

The city’s decision to reimpose the curfew was made after PACEM announced it would open its overnight winter operations earlier than normal. The group handed out flyers to the homeless community at the park announcing that it would open Saturday night, offering 35 beds for men and 15 for women. PACEM shelters will remain open until April 12, the group said.

But Banks and others in her close-knit group would not be staying there, in part because she said there would not be enough beds for the number of people who have been living in Market Street Park. The Salvation Army’s overnight shelter also does not have enough capacity for the park’s population.

“I think it’s unconscionable,” said one advocate who declined to provide her name to The Daily Progress. She was bringing supplies to people as they packed and offered rides to anyone who needed to move their belongings from the park.

“I went to the City Council meeting where they said they were making sure that there was housing, that there were multiple shelters for multiple needs,” she said. “This is the most inhumane, ridiculous thing.”

Richard Parks, who has a home of his own, had a table set up at the park, offering cookies, apples and beverages to anyone interested. He also provided a tent for someone in the park to sleep in. He said he had been visiting the park for days, hoping to get the housed to meet with the unhoused and “acknowledge each other as people.”

A man played a guitar nearby as Huey Son walked by with her two young children. She was carrying supplies to give to the homeless: hand sanitizer, socks, feminine hygiene products, cleaning wipes, chips and granola bars.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Son said of the city’s decision to bring back the curfew, as her daughter wandered to Parks’ table and grabbed an apple. “There’s no major shelter here like most cities have. So I think it’s crazy.”

The number of people in Charlottesville who fell 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. The only year-round shelters in the city are the Salvation Army on Ridge Street and the Haven day shelter directly across from Market Street Park.

Banks claimed that she had plans to meet with city leadership to discuss possible solutions to the homeless crisis, but that meeting never transpired. She said that on Saturday morning she was meant to meet with a city council member at Grit Coffee, but he never showed.

The city has acknowledged that it must find a solution to the homeless problem. In a recent council meeting, Sanders said that it would take time and that operating an overnight shelter is extremely expensive.

While that may be true, and the city will need to find some way to raise funds for any shelter it hopes to maintain, it will bring little comfort to Banks and others who are on the hunt for a place to stay where they will not be bothered by police and passersby.

“We’re tired,” Banks said. “We’ve been asking for help and nobody wants to help.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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