Special Report: Helping the Homeless or Preventing Progress?

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Judeo-Christian Outreach Center near the Oceanfront has been offering up a menu of services for the homeless for more than 30 years. But its signature program — a free daily meal, no questions asked  — is upsetting the neighbors.

The outreach center says it’s more than just a meal, it’s a way to bring services to people who are often too proud to get help.

But the head of the local neighborhood group says it attracts drinking, littering and loitering — and that doesn’t fit with the area’s plans.

“I’m in contact with the staff at the planning department,” said Tom Musumeci, chair of the Seabridge Square Civic Association.

Todd Walker looks out for a different kind of community as the JCOC’s Executive Director.

“A fair amount of people in the area are living below the poverty level,” Walker said.

Walker’s office is less than a quarter mile from Musumeci’s home, but in a way they’re worlds apart.

10 On Your Side walked through the neighborhood with Musumeci as he pointed out litter, garbage and empty beer bottles. He says they’re from people gathering at the center for the daily meal.

“There’s usually a bunch of people that just sit out there all day. They’ve got lawn chairs and coolers.”

Walker disagrees. “It’s not our clients that are there loitering, definitely not.”

Austin Moorefield, 24, definitely was one their clients. When he saw us getting video of JCOC, he was concerned that it might be closing. He says the center was essential for him and others near the Oceanfront.

“They got me on my feet when I had to stay here.”

Moorefield agrees the location draws crowds.

“People are drinking and smoking weed out here all the time.”

And surveillance video from a city camera shows people gathering late on a recent afternoon, about the time people would line up for the daily meal.

Musumeci says the neighbors don’t oppose helping the homeless — they just have no appetite for the crowds, and what the crowds leave behind.

Meanwhile, development is ramping up on what’s known as the 17th Street corridor.

“(The area) really has a tremendous potential for mixed-use redevelopment,” Musumeci said.

Right across from the JCOC crews were clearing the site for the $68 million Sportsplex, a multi-sport recreation center.

“Families are coming,” Musumeci said.

JCOC plans to be part of that revitalization. It wants to consolidate several buildings into one structure on the same site, and offer the same services, new transitional housing, and the same daily meal it’s provided for decades.

“The JCOC is really good at handing out fish to people,” Musumeci says, “but they’re not teaching anybody to fish for themselves.”

Walker has heard that line before — and he’s not biting. He says the meal is a gateway for other services.

“It gives us an opportunity to engage some of those homeless individuals who have not made the decision to get housing or get the help that they need. You have to have a carrot to dangle to meet them where they are, and that’s very important.”

“First thing I heard about was that they give out dinner here,” Moorefield recalls.  “It was kind of embarrassing to come here for the first time, but it’s awesome the services they got here.”

The Civic Association and JCOC have met in the past over the daily meal issue but they haven’t come to any agreement.

“I wouldn’t call it constructive,” Walked said of the meetings. “For us it’s not about fighting with anybody. We can always agree to disagree.”

45 people have signed a Seabridge Square petition.  They want the JCOC to move to the new Housing Resource Center on Witchduck. That’s 10 miles away for people who have few if any transportation options.

The center plans to present its rebuilding plan to the city before the end of this year.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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