Mission's growing ministry to homeless leaves some neighbors losing hope; trust, February 15, 2015
By Matt Chittum
Somebody had been sleeping with the dead again.
In the center of the old
City Cemetery Tazewell Avenue Southeast,
a mattress pad sprawled across the final resting place of George and Beulah
Bell. One corner of a blue and white comforter was peeled back, leaving the
makeshift bed unmade.
The frozen dregs of a cup of 7-Eleven store coffee rested on a nearby headstone. Amy Morgan, president of the Belmont Neighborhood Association, paused over the bedding. It had been 11 degrees the night before.
“It can’t stay here,” she said suddenly, sweeping the bedding up in two arms. “I’ve worked too hard for this neighborhood.”
She hauled the linens over to a dumpster at the rear of the Roanoke Rescue Mission, where hundreds of homeless people sleep in warm beds nightly — nearly 2,700 of them last year, including more than 500 children.
The problem for Morgan and her neighbors is not the hundreds who get a hand up from the mission. It’s those she says come for a handout and linger in the neighborhood, enabled by free meals at the mission to spend their money on Steel Reserve lager beer by the quart, sleep in the woods, urinate in public, and litter the streets. It’s the more than 30 registered sex offenders who list the Rescue Mission as their home or work address.
The Rescue Mission is an asset to those it aids, Morgan knows, and it enjoys broad community support from thousands of volunteers and donors who give millions.
“It’s about that feel-good feeling when they serve soup,” Morgan said. “I challenge anybody to come down here and help clean up the neighborhood and see the other side of homelessness. And you won’t walk away with that feel-good feeling.”