Ramblings: Homelessness Ticks Up in Roanoke Valley; School Board Members Chosen; Applicants Seek Council Seat

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another.

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another. We’re on the lookout for tidbits related to money in politics, data, business, civic engagement or interesting events. Think you know of something that could be a Rambling? Drop us a line at editor@roanokerambler.com and we may well write about it. Happy reading!

Homelessness in the Roanoke Valley has increased over the last year, according to new data. Above, Dawn Sandoval, director of homeless outreach group The Least of These Ministry, chats in November 2021 with Andrew Sweet, who had moved to Roanoke from Buchanan to look for a job. FILE PHOTO BY STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

Homeless count increases in Roanoke

Homelessness in the Roanoke Valley has increased over the last year, according to new data.

In January, officials counted 402 people experiencing homelessness in the region, 326 of whom were staying in shelters and another 76 outdoors. That’s a 20 percent increase overall from last year. The number of those outdoors more than doubled from last year’s count of 37 individuals.

The latest Point in Time census report from the Blue Ridge Interagency Council on Homelessness notes that the region’s homelessness rate has decreased since 2012, when 561 people were counted as homeless.

“Even though the overall homeless count has decreased over the last twelve years, recent trends reflect the challenges facing our community,” the report says. “This substantial increase in the unsheltered count can likely be partially attributed to an increase in the accuracy of the street count.”

Another team of outreach workers allowed officials to count people at encampments early in the morning before they left.

“It cannot be discounted that other factors – including economic and lack of affordable housing – are also contributing to the unsheltered and overall increases,” the report notes.

The census also estimated the primary reason why individuals became homeless. Following an option for “other” at 15 percent, the report said 14 percent cited a relationship conflict; 10 percent cited a lack of affordable housing; and 10 percent cited underemployment or a low income.

Overall, the report says 31 percent cited an eviction as a reason for their homelessness.

The report does note a 40 percent decline in the number of homeless veterans regionally, as well as an increase in the number of those leaving homelessness for permanent housing.

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Council chooses school board members

Roanoke’s school board will see two new faces and the return of an incumbent in July.

City Council on Monday appointed Auraliz “Liz” Quintana, Deidre Trigg and board member Michael Cherry II to three-year terms. The vote was 6-0 with Councilwoman Vivian Sanchez-Jones absent.

Incumbent Mark Cathey is term-limited and incumbent Diane Casola isn’t seeking reappointment.

Roanoke remains one of a handful of localities in Virginia that appoints, rather than directly elects, school board members. The board oversees a district with 13,000 children and a budget of more than $250 million.

Board members will soon deal with issues including cell phones in school, ongoing problems with late buses, and a change to how the city funds the district.

Cherry, who was first appointed in 2021, manages medical coders for Optum Health, and pastors at Altha Grove Baptist Church in Forest. In his Council interview, he cited ongoing issues with late school buses and increasing student voices in the school system as major challenges.

Quintana, a youth development supervisor for the city, was a finalist last year for school board. She previously worked for child protective services in New York.

“There needs to be representation of the Hispanic community,” she told Council as her reason for applying. “It is the largest growing immigrant community in the city. I am very passionate about that.”

Trigg, a parent and former Roanoke educator and coach to the position, told Council that the district needs to trust its teachers and parents to tackle behavioral issues in the schools.

“I do believe that our teachers have it the roughest,” Trigg said. “Their hands are tied.”

Councilwoman Trish White-Boyd on Monday thanked the applicants and encouraged finalists David Howell and Keri Garnett to seek another opportunity in the future.

“I think we’ve selected three people who are going to serve our school division well,” Mayor Sherman Lea said.

Applications roll in for Council seat

Residents have until 5 p.m. Friday, June 14 to apply for a City Council seat that Luke Priddy is relinquishing next month.

City Council intends to appoint someone as soon as June 17 to fill the remaining six months of Priddy’s term. He’s moving to Northern Virginia to be a state senator’s chief of staff.

The quick turnaround time is meant to bring someone on board by July 1. That person would arrive at a time of upheaval at city hall, as they’re likely to help choose Roanoke’s next city manager.

Applicants are asked to submit a statement of interest to the city clerk’s office (215 Church Ave. SW, room 456).

As of midday Tuesday, Nick Hagen, Cathy Reynolds, Andrew Raduly and Delvis “Mac” McCadden had applied, according to the clerk’s office. Hagen is running for Council as a Republican and McCadden served a Council term in the 1990s as a Republican (later becoming an independent).

Mayor Sherman Lea told The Rambler last month that the ideal candidate would have some experience governing or working in an elected body and have knowledge of local issues.

“He or she needs to be able to hit the ground running and help us as we go about governing the city,” he said.

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