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Valley Metro wants the homeless to find shelter elsewhere

By Nadine Maeser, nmaeser@wdbj7.com
Published On: Jul 15 2013 08:54:58 PM EDT
Updated On: Jul 15 2013 11:35:34 PM EDT

Many homeless are using the Roanoke Valley Bus Station as a place to sleep at night

ROANOKE, Va. -

A number of unwanted visitors are keeping a business busy after it closes and some people aren't happy about it.

Just a few hours after the last bus leaves the Valley Metro bus depot in downtown Roanoke, a group of homeless people move in for the night.

Valley Metro General Manager Carl Palmer knows they aren’t there to catch an early bus. He knows they are there to sleep and that’s why he’s asked the Roanoke City Police Department to keep an eye on the depot after it closes.

"This is not a life for anybody," said Brandy Browning.

Browning calls Roanoke home but has been homeless for five years.

"I don't feel safe anywhere,” she said. “You're out here. You're on the streets. You do not have a roof over your head. You do not have the security of a locked door."

But Browning doesn't even have a door. She is one of a handful of people who seek shelter in the open-air bus depot almost every night.

Browning sleeps on a piece of cardboard with one blanket and lives out of a backpack.

"As for bathrooms, I'm not proud of this, but pretty much anywhere you can find at night as long as you don't get caught that's all I can say," she said.

Browning admits bad decisions in the past have landed her on the streets these days and she hasn’t been too successful with starting a new chapter.

"I have tried applying to jobs without an address and without a phone,” she said. “I can't do it."

So why choose the streets over a shelter?

The Roanoke Police Department said the city offers a number of services to the homeless population to help get them back on their feet, but some just don't want to go.

"Being homeless is not illegal and people are allowed to exercise the right if they choose to not stay in a shelter to sleep outside as long as they're not trespassing or breaking any other code sections," said Sgt. Kenny Garrett with the Roanoke City Police Department.

Garrett supervises the downtown patrol unit. He said as long as they're not blocking a sidewalk where pedestrians cross, trespassing or sleeping on park benches they can sleep wherever they like.

“If we get a call on it and we respond and someone’s breaking a law then we move them along,” he said. “A lot of them don’t realize they’re breaking a law until we give them a warning and then if we catch them again we charge them.”

Valley Metro wants them gone. Browning said she wants to be “gone” too, but like the others, she has nowhere to go.

"There is no safety net,” she said about living in the depot after hours. “I mean you could be attacked at any moment. Anything could happen."

Browning told WDBJ 7 she is barred from some the shelters here in Roanoke because of a prior incident that involved another tenant.

She said the group usually shows up to the bus station around 10:30 pm. She said they try to be out by 4:30 am.

Palmer said Valley Metro is not sure what they will do if the group isn’t gone soon. He said the station is not a place for people to dwell. It is a place for traveling customers.

In the past year, the Roanoke City Police Department has had 118 calls come into 911 for 26 Salem Avenue SW in downtown Roanoke. Majority of those were for trespassing and drinking.

About 250 calls have come into 911 for 17 Campbell Avenue SW. More than 40 of the calls were for drinking. About 45 calls came in for trespassing.

The police department said those numbers are low considering how many people travel through the bus station on a daily basis.

They also consider the bus station a highly traveled area because of its proximity to the bars.