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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Virginia: They've been living in shacks by the water in Norfolk. Now they have to go — but where? By Eric Hartley


As a Registered Sex Offender the Veteran’s Affair Housing voucher proposal below is a false hope, RSO’s do NOT qualify. 

If any Re-entry folks who check this blog can help this compliant RSO in Norfolk find a new location please use the contact information at the end of the article. 

Thank you. 

Mary Devoy 

 

They've been living in shacks by the water in Norfolk. Now they have to go — but where? July 9, 2016
By Eric Hartley

NORFOLK -Officially, the prime spit of waterfront property off the Campostella Bridge – valued at $1.6 million – has been vacant for years.

A plan to build 246 apartments there, approved by the city in 2011, fell through. 

But unbeknownst to the owners, the land has already been occupied. 

Gina Gallegos and her boyfriend, Phil Routson, arrived 18 months ago and claimed a large clearing in the trees. Gino Linn Reid has lived next door, deeper into the woods, for four years. 

By most definitions, they’re homeless. But the homes they’ve made just east of the bridge on the south side of the Elizabeth River go far beyond tents in the woods. 

Routson built a shack out of leftover pallets from cabinet and lumber stores down the road and bought a gas generator for power. Reid, a registered sex offender who’s spent 16 years in prison , made a frame from driftwood and draped it with tarps. Inside, he has carpets, a gas grill, two couches, a sink, a battery-operated TV and a small tent – where he sleeps. Outside are stone steps and a brick walkway. 
 

Now, the city and the property owner say all three need to leave.
 
Last week, the Norfolk Fire Marshal’s Office put orange “unfit for habitation” notices on both makeshift homes.

The city heard about people living on the land during a community meeting in May, and several staffers visited the site to talk with Gallegos, Routson and Reid, city spokeswoman Lori Crouch said. Officials went back and posted the notices June 27. 

Richard Levin, one of the partners in the group that owns the land, said he was sympathetic to the squatters but had no choice. 

The city told him they need to leave, he said. And now that he’s aware, he worries he would have legal liability if something happened to them. A part of him wishes he still didn’t know. 

“Sometimes ignorance is bliss,” he said, adding later, “If that guy got four years of living out there and there was nowhere else to go, what can I say? I’m glad he got four years.” 

The site was once home to a Giant Open Air supermarket, part of a chain that merged with Farm Fresh. Levin said the foundation of the store is still there. 

Gallegos said she and Routson wished they could stay in the home they made. 

But on Wednesday, she was packing up the site while Routson was away helping his parents with a broken-down car. He later said the two weren’t sure where they would end up. 

Next door, Reid wasn’t planning to go anywhere immediately. 

The gray-bearded 59-year-old is known to many in Norfolk for playing guitar outside the Target on North Military Highway. He also used to play downtown on Monticello Avenue. 

On Wednesday, Reid sounded defiant: “As far as I’m concerned, they’re going to have a hard time getting a truck in here to get me out, if they even decide to do it.” 

A day later, he was growing resigned to the idea of leaving. He just didn’t want to be rushed. 

“I’ve been here so long,” he said. “It’s going to take me a while.”

Michael Wasserberg, director of Norfolk’s Office to End Homelessness, said his staff is working with Reid, a Marine Corps veteran. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is also considering a housing voucher that would help him pay for a new place to stay. 

Other city staffers are trying to find help for Gallegos and Routson, Crouch said. 

There’s no plan to force anyone off the land until they’re connected with services. 

“The goal is to find answers to the situation, not just move it around,” Wasserberg said. 

“It’s a little junky,” Reid said, showing visitors into his main room. 

He laughed. “But that’s because I don’t have a wife.” 

Giving a tour, he explained with some amazement that almost everything he’s gathered was discarded by the side of the road not far away.

Despite the circumstances, Reid has fairly normal routines. In the morning, he brushes his teeth and washes his face at the small sink. 

There’s no plumbing, but he always keeps 10 gallons of water on hand. Rainwater filters through thin mesh on the roof into a bucket. Reid then adds a little bleach and covers the bucket to purify the water. 

He bathes regularly, scooping water over his head, soaping up and then scooping more water to rinse off. He defecates in a bucket lined with plastic bags, which he ties off and buries. 

He cooks on his gas grill. Dinner one evening this week was a chicken wing, some potato wedges and a can of pinto beans. 

“I’m basically a U.S. Marine, living like a U.S. Marine would in the field,” Reid said, adding that he was honorably discharged after serving from 1974 to 1975. The Marines confirmed they have a record of his service, but details were not available Friday. 

Reid said he’s lived outside by choice for decades, when he hasn’t been in prison. He attributes his situation to the same mental problems that give him anxiety and a distrust of authority. 

“If I’m inside of a building for more than a couple of hours, I start getting real itchy, and I want to get out of there,” he said. 

Reid said he lived near the Berkley Bridge until “interlopers” made it unpleasant; then he found the Campostella spot in July 2012.

First, he stayed in a small tent. That fall, storm surges from Hurricane Sandy pushed him to higher ground four times until he found his current spot. 

Next to the main room, he has a partly open “workshop” with a bench and some tools. Outside, down the stone steps and a short walk away, are a few plastic chairs in a semicircle for sitting around a fire. 

Wasserberg, the homeless office director, said few people his staff encounter live in such elaborate circumstances.

“Gino is creative,” Wasserberg said. “He’s a survivor. And he’s dealing with things. We’re actually glad we were able to connect with him because he’s well hidden back there.” 

Reid was convicted in Kansas in 1990 of aggravated sexual battery involving a minor, according to Virginia’s sex-offender registry. 

Details of the case were not available from court officials or prosecutors in Kansas. Reid said the charge, to which he pleaded guilty, involved him kissing a 10-year-old girl he met while working at a carnival. He said he thought the girl was 13 or 14. Reid was in his early 30s at the time. 

He said he was also charged with indecent exposure in Norfolk in the 1980s. He described all the charges against him as “railroad jobs.” In 2007 and 2009, he was convicted of failing to register as a sex offender in Virginia; his registration is now current. 

Reid wasn’t home when city officials posted the no-habitation notice, but he rushed back when a police officer he knows stopped him near Target and told him what was going on. 

The city took Reid’s four kittens, born weeks before, he said. He was told that his shack was not a safe place for them and later that it would cost $280 to get them back. 

Late this week, Reid still didn’t know where he was going to live: “It’s like my entire life, once again, is in a state of flux.” 

Asked what he thought of the possible housing voucher, he said: “I’d just as soon stay where I am, as far as I’m concerned. That place pretty much became my home.” 

He added if there’s a chance to get a solid roof over his head, “I’d be some kind of a fool not to at least look into it.”

Gallegos and Routson, who both grew up in California, have been together more than five years, Gallegos said. 

The couple moved to Virginia a few years ago for what Routson, now 33, called “a new start.” In Fresno County, Calif., he’d been a drug user with frequent arrests on drug, burglary and theft charges. In about three years in Virginia, he said, he has never gone to jail. 

The two stayed with Routson’s sister until a falling out, then in a series of rooms and motels, which they left for reasons he didn’t want to discuss. 

Living outside was never the plan. But Gallegos, 42, said she grew to like their home in the woods – where it grows pitch dark at night and you can see flocks of fireflies. 

“It’s awesome,” she said. “We like to be in the water. We like to fish.” 

She looks for shells in the Elizabeth and said the area reminds her of Auberry, a town near the San Joaquin River in central California, where she used to live. 

The two have a small boat, which Routson said a friend gave him. He goes out on the water with a net and scoops crabs off the sides of nearby barges or bridge pilings. Sometimes he sells them. 

Gallegos said she doesn’t like seafood and eats a lot of Popeyes, KFC and other fast food. She works part time pressing pants at a dry cleaner. Routson said he can fix almost anything, including lawn mowers, weed eaters, trucks and heavy equipment. 

The two don’t have a car, and got around on a motorcycle until it broke down a week ago, Gallegos said. 

Like Reid, they said they’d largely been left alone and had few problems until recently. 

Routson said the complaints that led to their eviction might have started when a man in a boat saw him and started cursing, accusing Routson of stealing from crab pots. 

Shortly after that came the first official city visit. 

“Nobody ever had a problem, and then all of a sudden, bam,” Routson said. 

He and Gallegos seemed offended by the accusation they were thieves. Routson said he doesn’t even like using crab pots because it takes too long. 

“We don’t touch nobody’s stuff,” Gallegos said. “Nobody comes and touches our stuff.” 

Wasserberg said the city doesn’t always know about homeless people. Some don’t ask for help, either out of shame or a desire for privacy. 

“It’s a situation no one expects to find themselves in,” Wasserberg said 

Norfolk has been trying to end chronic homelessness since a pledge signed by then-Mayor Paul Fraim more than a decade ago. The Office to End Homelessness was established in 2005 and has helped connect hundreds of people to social services. The office also works with people who are at risk of becoming homeless, for example by helping them pay rent. 

Anyone who needs help or knows someone who does can call the office at 757-664-4488.