Roanoke, VA

Homelessness in Roanoke: The Dark Side

Cheryl E Preston
Homelessness is ccomplexPhoto byClay LeConeyonUnsplash

There are no quick fixes for the homeless

Last summer a man came up to me as I was pumping gas at Go-Mart on Williamson Road. He lifted his shirt, pointed at his side, and said he was a Christian who had just gotten out of the hospital and was homeless and hungry. I was sure this was a scam and now I know it was. This morning, as I sat at the red light on Williamson at Hardee's' my window, was cracked and I recognized this same man telling the same tale to those standing at the bus stop and lifting up his shirt.

As traffic began moving and I began pulling off I saw him walk into a laundry mat and sit on one of the counters. I wondered if he was going to use the same tale to get money from those doing their laundry. While I champion the rights of the least of these I admit that there is a dark side to homelessness which is why the homeless should not be lumped together or brushed aside with "don't feed or give money" to any of them. When confronted with the situation each person should be treated on an individual basis.

Wanda Emery became the face of homelessness in the Roanoke Valley and I often saw her when I shopped at the old Campbell Mart or parked on that block of Campbell Ave to walk to the Sunshine Dry Cleaners or Roanoke Weiner Stand. She was polite in general but when anyone got on her wrong side I witnessed her use profanity and even the N-word with people of color.

The Rescue Mission CEO Lee Clark said of Ms. Emery :“Wanda raised all of our awareness for what it means to be mentally ill, what it means to be – as a result – homeless in the Roanoke Valley,” but there is a dark side.
the same storyPhoto byJon TysononUnsplash

A different tale of homelessness

Many decades ago, long before Wanda Emery, there was another homeless white female who pushed her belongings in a shopping cart in Downtown Roanoke. She was dubbed Suitcase Sally and my mother gave her a few dollars every time she saw her near the Market Square. Sally's clothing looked old and at times she was dirty. Her hair was messy and many locals expressed empathy for her plight. just as they did later on for Ms. Emery. Although there is no record of her online when "Sally" passed away there was an article in the Roanoke Times saying that she had a lot of money in the bank.

Why you might ask would anyone who has money and means choose to live in the elements and no one can answer that except those who live the life? There is currently a man who has been homeless for at least a decade. I was told his name and that he attended Patrick Henry and was a classmate of a woman who was one year ahead of my oldest son-which places him in his early 40s. He currently stands on a median strip at a local intersection but has been in several other locations in Northwest Roanoke and the Gainsboro neighborhood for at least 10 years.
Homelessness is a serious problemPhoto byEtienne GirardetonUnsplash

Each story is different

One night in 2015 or 2016 it was cold and icy, and several inches of snow were on the ground. I came out of a convenience store on Cove Road and saw this man and asked where he slept in the bitter weather and he pointed behind the building. At first, I was troubled that anyone had to sleep outside on such a night but quickly became skeptical. I could not imagine anyone living in the elements for decades without being sick or dying and wondered if there was more to his story.

A few days ago I was talking with another man who once had been homeless and he said that the young man I was concerned about received a monthly check and had a family that he refused to live with. He said he knew for a fact that this homeless individual and several others were making $200 a day on average by panhandling. He added that I should not feel bad for this man because he did have somewhere to sleep at night.

There are so many facets to homelessness in Roanoke but thankfully there are steps being taken by various organizations to try to assist those in need and get them off the streets. What should not be done is to throw the baby out with the bath water and penalize those truly in need because of those who are milking the system.

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I write, about breaking news, and current events. I wrote a newspaper column from 1997 to 2007 and have written for various online platforms since 2012 including Yahoo Contributor Network, Hubpages, and Vocal Media.

Roanoke, VA

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