CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Homeless encampments in West Virginia’s capital city are being cleared in an effort to remove “criminal vagrants,” Charleston officials said.

The Kanawha City Community Association has pledged to “rescue and clean” riverbanks in the area, The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported . The organization gathered roughly 30 volunteers on Tuesday to dismantle encampments along the Kanawha River.

Kanawha City is a neighborhood in Charleston.

Charleston Councilman Rick Burka, who is also the association’s president, said the project aims to drive out suspected criminals who are homeless.

He believes the project will deter crimes such as theft and prostitution. It sends a message to residents who feel their businesses or neighborhoods are in decline, as well as to vagrants deemed responsible, Burka said.

The effort is among several trying to address what Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and police Chief Steve Cooper have said is an influx of “criminal vagrants.”

A proposed ordinance introduced to the City Council last week would require individuals to obtain a permit before panhandling. The bill would also apply to organizations soliciting money.

The population of homeless individuals has tripled since 2016, increasing from approximately 370 people to about 1,000, Burka said.

Wrongdoers are more likely to choose the freedom of an encampment in a wooded-area to avoid the rules of an official shelter, Burka said.

“You know the old adage: you build it and they will come, in baseball,” Burka said. “My idea was to clear it and they will leave.”

The association’s project is scheduled to end by spring.


Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.