BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – On Tuesday night, the Bristol, Virginia City Council approved an ordinance making it illegal to camp on city property. Meanwhile, downtown businesses and their employees have varying opinions on the ban.
The ordinance bans camping on sidewalks, alleys, or other public rights-of-way, and those in violation will face a Class 4 misdemeanor. Last month in Tennessee, a law was enacted making it a felony to camp on public property.
Kristopher Goins works at the Mini Corner Mart on State Street, but it wasn’t always that way. He struggled with homelessness.
“I lived under a bridge,” Goins said. “It was just under the bridge up here by the train station, and it was just a horrible experience. I had a fire but it was dead of winter.”
Goins said he struggled with sobriety, he applied to jobs without a birth certificate or even a photo ID.
“I would go to the library every day and put applications in online and walk up and down State Street,” he said.
Goins climbed his way out of homelessness, but there are still people in Bristol fighting their own battle.
Goins said he’s noticed a big increase in the homeless lately, especially since they make up about 50% of Corner Mart’s customer base.
“It is an issue that needs to be fixed quick or it’s going to get out of hand,” Goins said.
Goins, like so many other people working downtown, describes cleaning up trash from the homeless every morning when they come in. Karen Hester, owner of Cranberry Lane gift shop, said the same.
“It’s a very delicate situation you know and as a business owner I can’t afford for people to camp out on my front stoop,” Hester said.
So is the new ordinance the “fix” for this problem? Goins said he’s not sure.
“It’s a two-edged sword,” Goins said. “It’s going to keep the businesses and the people happy, but what’s it going to do in the long run? It’s just going to make them guys mad.”
Luckily, Goins said he is sober now. He just got his birth certificate recently, and he has a Social Security card on the way.
“It’s a struggle every day out there if you are homeless and got that mindset ‘I can’t find a job,'” Goins said. “It can be bad.”
Some council members said during Tuesday night’s meeting that it’s going to take a greater community effort to help the homeless long-term.