City Manager's Blog

Learn about the City of Roanoke from the City Manager's point of view.

May 10

Near Normal Experiences

Posted on May 10, 2021 at 3:04 PM by Melinda Mayo

Very little about the past year plus has been normal (whatever that means).  School has been virtual, events have been cancelled, kitchen tables have become offices, and masks are ubiquitous.  Slowly, with vaccines becoming more common, restrictions have been lifted and life is taking on a new normal.


Prior to last week, the last time I had seen my parents was well over a year ago.  Zoom meetings and phone calls are nice, but not the same.  Fully vaccinated (them and us), they are spending the month of May with us.  They have stayed healthy through this entire endeavor and for that I am thankful, and therefore we continue to take precautions while they visit.  As more and more are vaccinated, an increasing number of families will be able come together and begin to return to normal.


This past weekend I was able to partake in two additional activities that, under more normal conditions, would seem rather common or routine.  The first was a trip—a first foray outside of the Commonwealth of Virginia—a feat not undertaken since February of 2020, just before the arrival of COVID.  It was a quick trip, just a weekend in Tennessee near the Smoky Mountains National Park.  It was wonderful to travel, though the near complete absence of mask-wearing in Tennessee was a bit disconcerting.  So nice to ride for hours, taking in the scenery, hiking along streams, and just being someplace different.


The other was attendance at the University of Tennessee’s commencement ceremony—my wife was receiving her second Master’s degree.  The event was notable due to its occurrence on the surface of Neyland Stadium, a first in the University’s history.  Attendance at the event was limited in number. My parents were able to accompany us and all were masked and physically distanced, not too difficult for 4,000 people in a stadium that commonly holds more than the entire population of Roanoke, cheering on the Volunteers.

Both of these events reminded me just how much of the normal and routine we went without this past year and how important they are in our lives.  These near normal experiences add flavor and fun to our lives—memories are made and important accomplishments are noted.  These are the things that truly bring life to our days.  As more and more get vaccinated and as we work together to put COVID in the rear view mirror, the more common these otherwise normal activities and experiences will become.

We’re nearly there—nearly normal—let’s keep going with vaccines and appropriate mitigation measures.

— Bob Cowell

May 03

Public Service Recognition

Posted on May 3, 2021 at 4:33 PM by Melinda Mayo

The first week of May is acknowledged as Public Service Recognition Week.  Promoted by the Partnership for Public Service since 1985, the recognition provides an opportunity to celebrate those who serve the Nation as federal, state, county, local, and tribal government employees. 

Even More Essential 

It has long been recognized that certain services we depend upon are essential to our safety and well-being, and are only delivered by those working in public service.  These include the expected services—fire protection, emergency dispatch, law enforcement, snow removal, etc. But in this past year, we recognized this to include virus testing and vaccine delivery, as well as providing vital economic assistance.  Those working at all levels of government have been found to be even more essential than perhaps previously recognized.

Easily Forgotten or Even Disparaged

All too often, government is ridiculed as bureaucratic, inefficient, or even corrupt.  While there are (as in the private sector as well) certainly examples of this, by and large services are delivered in a professional, courteous, and thoughtful manner by your neighbors.  Imagine what life would be like if safe, plentiful drinking water were not available in an instant at your tap; if a truck didn’t show up at your curb each week to carry off and safely dispose of your household waste; or if that trained paramedic didn’t show up at your door within minutes to help you with whatever circumstance you or a loved one may find themselves in. Government workers at all levels should be celebrated for what they do, and how they contribute to the strength and vitality of our neighborhoods, communities, and nation.

Well-Earned Thanks

So next time you see that soldier, fire fighter, police officer, teacher, sanitation worker, public health official, transit operator, or any of the other hundreds of thousands that, day in and day out, provide services that are essential to our lives, please tell them thank you and let them know how much you value their contribution to our Community.

Happy Public Service Recognition Week!

-- Bob Cowell

Apr 26


Posted on April 26, 2021 at 2:19 PM by Melinda Mayo

homeless image SMALL

No doubt, you’ve seen them.  Sitting around Market Square, asking for money near the intersection of Franklin Road and Brandon Avenue, sleeping on the sidewalk near the downtown post office, camped out near Airport Drive, or traveling the streets between the Rescue Mission and RAM House—the unhoused.  Some are homeless by choice, many find themselves living outdoors as the result of mental health issues, substance use, escaping an abusive environment, loss of income, or some combination of all of the above.  

Who Are They?

Each year, there is a count completed in our community of those currently living unhoused.  The most recent count revealed 250 such individuals, with 238 of those residing temporarily in one of our local shelters.  

According to the report generated from this most recent count:

  • Fourteen percent (35) of people experiencing homelessness were children.
  • Eighty-four percent (211) were over the age of 24, and 1.2 percent (3) were between the ages of 18 and 24.
  • There were 186 people experiencing homelessness in adult-only households, accounting for 74.4% percent of the homeless population. Most (97.9%) were over the age of 24. Two percent were between 18 and 24 (4).
  • There were 52 people in families with children experiencing homelessness, representing 20.8 percent of the homeless population. Of people in families with children, 67.3 percent (35) were children under the age of 18, 32.7 percent were over 24, and none were between the ages of 18 and 24.
  • There were 27 veterans experiencing homelessness.  All 27 veterans were homeless in households without children. Seven veterans were chronically homeless and two were unsheltered.
  • There were 56 individuals in adult-only households with chronic patterns of homelessness.
  • There were no chronically homeless families with children.
  • There were 3 unaccompanied homeless youth between the ages of 18 and 24 (all were sheltered).

This same report indicated:

  • Between 2020 and 2021, homelessness among individuals decreased by 7 percent.
  • Homelessness among people in families with children counted on a single night decreased by 17.5% between 2020 (63) and 2021 (52).
  • The number of homeless family households decreased by 29.2% between 2020 (24) and 2021 (17).
  • Between 2020 and 2021, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the Roanoke Region (including Alleghany County) decreased by 9.4%. (276 in 2020 and 250 in 2021).
  • Homelessness decreased among people staying in unsheltered locations by 60.0%. (30 in 2020 and 12 in 2021).
  • A trend of decreasing numbers since 2012 in the Roanoke Region shows that homelessness has decreased by 55.4% (561 in 2012 and 250 in 2021).

A Helping Hand

Roanoke is a generous place.  Someone who finds themself unhoused can access services ranging from food to shelter, and from medical care to peer support.  Local non-profits, social services agencies and others join with local and state government to provide many of these services.  A few of these include the RAM House, the Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, United Way, the City’s Homeless Assistance Team (HAT), the Least of These Ministries, ARCH Services, Roanoke’s Department of Planning, Building and Development, and others.

Many of these participate with the Blue Ridge Interagency Council on Homelessness, the entity responsible for conducting the annual count and generating the referenced report. 


Living outdoors is not a desirable situation for anyone.  As noted, many of those doing so are not in a positon to make a better choice.  There is no question that, from time to time, the presence of those living outdoors causes issues.  These include the presence of litter and debris, unsanitary and unsightly living conditions, paraphernalia from drug use, discomfort to those in proximity and, on a few rare occasions, acts of intimidation or violence.  

So many ask, why not just make them leave or have them arrested?  Roanoke has worked very hard to avoid punitive responses to those experiencing homelessness, and rather ensure there are solutions to the issues they face.  The HAT and others can connect folks to temporary and permanent housing, and there are several entities that assist getting folks placed into substance treatment programs.  But what if they can’t or won’t avail themselves of these programs?  The reality is the courts have supported the notion that provided they are not doing anything illegal; sitting and sleeping on sidewalks cannot be prevented.  Under certain circumstances, and with specific limitations, overnight sleeping can be prevented in parks.  The basic rule is, if you or I can use, stop, or sit down in a space anytime of the day, then someone experiencing homelessness should be able to do so as well.

The presence of unhoused individuals, especially those living outdoors, makes people uncomfortable and it should.  In Roanoke, we try hard to have that discomfort met with compassion rather than punishment.  People are discouraged from providing money directly to those seeking help, but supporting the agencies that provide assistance instead.  While not what we want to see around our City, these individuals need our understanding, our patience, and our help. 

-- Bob Cowell