BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) — A noticeable increase in the homeless population in Bristol, Virginia has city officials taking action to ensure all citizens are safe.
“To do that we need the streets clear. We need the sidewalks clear. We need people not to go to the bathroom places they shouldn’t,” Mayor Neal Osborne said.
At the last City Council meeting, members approved on first reading an ordinance to make public urination and defecation illegal.
Council members also approved on first reading another measure adding new language to the city’s loitering ordinance.
Osborne said the changes are focused on two different areas of the city: loitering near Exits 5 and 7 and people using the bathroom where they shouldn’t downtown.
At the prior meeting, council members listened to a presentation from the Downtown Chattanooga Alliance about a program of their’s that finds a way to get homeless people mental health and substance abuse assistance and helps them move toward a better way of life.
Osborne quickly debunked the rumor of the Bristol Casino bringing the influx of homeless people to the area.
“The casino is not related,” Osborne said. “We don’t see a lot of people experiencing homelessness near the casino.”
The Bristol, Virginia Police Department is seeing an increase in calls related to people experiencing homelessness.
Dispatch has been responding to calls at businesses as well as people experiencing mental health issues. Sometimes they have to take that person to be evaluated.
“It does put a strain on our department to have to answer these calls because it takes us away from other things that are possibly important also,” Capt. Maynard Ratcliff said.
Bristol, Tennessee Mayor Vince Turner weighed in on the issue, agreeing with Osborne on this being a problem in every city. Turner said Bristol, Tennessee is working to combat the issue by having an increased police presence downtown.
Osborne said the city of Chattanooga is scheduled to have another presentation on what the city government has done to combat its homeless problem. That is scheduled for Oct. 23.
He added that the city continues to work with organizations that want to help with this issue on ways to make a positive change.