An Open Letter to the Mayor of Roanoke

(This letter was first published by The Roanoke Star.)

Mayor Sherman Lea:

I called your office last week in an attempt to speak with you about the current state of affairs and my recent experiences in Roanoke City. Your secretary took my information. I asked for a return call; I’ve heard nothing from you.

What are you doing about the decline of Roanoke City? I frequently shop and support businesses around Valley View Mall and the airport, and have been doing so for over 10 years. However, things are happening now that indicate I should take my business elsewhere.

Last Tuesday I was pumping gas at the BJ service station at 10:30 AM when a homeless man approached me, panhandling. When I refused him, he became angry and agitated. He retreated behind the pay center and emerged shoving a shopping cart through the parking lot filled with over-stuffed trash bags…cursing to himself.

I spoke to the employee in the pay center and shared what happened. She said, “it happens here numerous times a day. We tell them to leave. The Roanoke police occasionally come but they are powerless to do anything.”

Friday I was in my car in the Kroger parking lot on Rutgers St. A staggering woman made her way over to my car, and stood next to my window begging for money.

I’m sure you’re aware of the large homeless encampment in the woods between Aviation Drive and Lowe’s. Bags of trash, overturned shopping carts and homeless individuals are strewn across the truck exit from Lowe’s to Hershberger.

Why have you let these problems metastasize?

On numerous streets in Roanoke City, individuals are camping, squatting, or panhandling drivers. We do not see this in Roanoke County, Salem or Vinton. Police vehicles are more prevalent in these areas. I rarely see a police car in Roanoke City. What have you and City Council done to drive away and disenfranchise our police force?
On my return home that evening on Hershberger Road and Melrose, I was passed at high speeds by three different vehicles swerving in and out of traffic. I was driving the speed limit. I have not seen a police officer working traffic detail in that area for years now. It is a dangerous and highly-congested area located between the malls, airport and businesses.

The continuation and exacerbation of these events leave me feeling unsettled and unsafe and I hold you accountable.

As documented references, this graphic map on shows how dangerous much of Roanoke City is compared to surrounding districts, and shows Roanoke City has violent crime at exactly the national average, while property crimes are almost double the national average.

Citizens need and deserve answers.

Diane Ribble / Salem