“We have a homelessness issue in Culpeper." Culpeper government, agencies earmark resources to confront homelessness quandary

Efforts to fight homelessness in Culpeper continue to rage as police, nonprofits and local governments execute their power and resources to aid those experiencing housing instability.

POLICE

Town of Culpeper police officers are on the front line with their efforts to aid homeless individuals in Culpeper via direct, personal interactions on a daily basis.

“We have a homelessness issue in Culpeper,” said Lt. Brittany Jenkins. “We do seem to be an area that provides more resources than some of the other rural areas like Madison and Orange, and they all have their own resources, but we do seem to be cutting edge when it comes to making sure we take the first jumps to try and help people.”

Jenkins, who has worked within the department for 13 years, said she has seen an increase in the number of homeless individuals within the last few years.

Since joining the force earlier this year, Co-responder John Bankas has made contact with 10 people considered to be homeless by providing them with resources and follow up visits, but Jenkins said there may be up to 20. During the winter months, she continued, up to 40 individuals can be seen at the Depot downtown.

Bankas, who serves as a mental health professional within the police department, works with individuals experiencing homelessness in the most direct way by engaging them in conversation about the potential services they need to enter into more permanent housing or other aid.

One of the biggest challenges is collaboration with other agencies.

“Have we been successful? No,” Bankas said. “Are we going to be successful? I don’t know.”

“If you support their needs even a little bit, it’s better off than we were,” Jenkins said. “As long as they know someone out there is advocating for them and wanting to support them and wanting to point them in the right direction, then at least they know that it’s there.”

He not only provides them with literature and numbers to agencies, Bankas builds rapports and executes follow-up visits.

Both Jenkins and Bankas agree there are people who do not want help and choose to be homeless, but there are others who want to use available resources — be they permanent or temporary.

Bankas recalled meeting a man outside of a convenience store while riding along with an officer. After speaking with him, Bankas asked how he could help. Since the man was only passing through, he asked help finding a temporary job and housing.

Another challenge comes from the public who call police in the hopes they can remove the homeless individual by arresting them.

“This is somebody’s family member that you’re saying, ‘Just throw them away. Throw them in jail or some institution where you forget about them,’” Jenkins said. “They’re people, just like me and you. Who, one if they are choosing to live that life, let them live that life. If they’re not bothering anybody or they’re not harming anybody, let them be.”

NONPROFITS

Currently, there are 73 individuals who are “emergency sheltered” in Culpeper hotels and nine individuals in the Culpeper Housing & Shelter Services (CHASS) shelter, according to Foothills Housing Network Coordinator with Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission Rebecca Wareham. 

Others are sheltered by the Department of Social Services and Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services or are unsheltered.

“Even when we have the best numbers that we can have, it’s not always accurate because we don’t know the unsheltered, the actual unsheltered amount currently,” Wareham said.

Foothills Housing Network is a partnership of organizations within Culpeper, Madison, Orange, Fauquier and Rappahannock who in some way assist the homeless population or at risk of homeless population by way of grant opportunities and more.

According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, as of January 2020, Virginia had an estimated 5,957 experiencing homelessness on any given day.

Populations of homeless individuals ages 18 to 24 and over 62, Wareham said, have increased the most locally.

Those who are younger, Wareham continued, may be entering homelessness due to aging out of services. Those who are older, she continued, are on lower, fixed incomes who cannot afford housing.

“I think we tend to see because there’s more services available in Culpeper that the number of homeless individuals or individuals seeking services tends to be higher from Culpeper compared to certainly the more rural counties like Rappahannock or Madison or even Orange to a certain extent,” said Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission Executive Director Patrick Mauney.

GOVERNMENT

According to Culpeper Town Councilwoman Jamie Clancey, the council is currently overhauling zoning ordinances in the hopes they will be more conducive to housing arrangements such as garage apartments.

Wareham said one housing that has worked in other communities are roommates under individual leases, so if one tenant violates the lease, the property won't have to end the lease of everyone who lives there.

“Personally, as a social worker, I recognize the need to create and support programs that improve resilience for families because that saves money in the long run, focusing on upstream initiatives so we’re spending less on downstream crisis management,” Clancey said.

“Social services or programs that assist the homeless are handled by the county and are not regular functions of the town's core services,” said Culpeper Town Councilman Pranas Rimeikis. “Not that we aren't concerned about the issue.”

Council members have had some informal discussions about the homeless situation at the committee level, Rimeikis said, and have been briefed on what's being done at the county level and regionally. 

“It wouldn't make sense to duplicate services at the town level when town residents already pay taxes to the county to provide those services,” Rimeikis continued.

“The board of supervisors supports the fight against homelessness consistently through its funding of Culpeper Human Services which provides significant services and a number of options in trying to address this issue,” said Culpeper County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gary Deal.

In terms of the future, Rimeikis continued, Culpeper County is looking at a possible project to build temporary housing on property it owns. The project would require water and sewer connections and additional street access of which the town can provide.

The project, Deal said, would be a partnership effort to include tax credits and local government grants in the form of donated property.  

“This is still at a conceptual stage but has great potential,” Deal said.

Over the last year and a half, he continued, the board has allocated over $198,000 for various programs from its federal CARES Act funding to address homelessness during the pandemic.

maria@culpepertimes.com

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