Southside business owners hope fire at nearby homeless camp catches authorities’ attention

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Business owners in Richmond’s southside hope a fire that broke out at a nearby homeless camp Tuesday afternoon will shed light on issues they say they’ve been dealing with for months.

The fire broke out on Atmore Drive inside a wooded area. Neighboring business and property owners told 8News they had been complaining about the camp for months, claiming the fire could have been prevented had authorities stepped in sooner.

“10 homes, framed in with heat, out houses and everything,” said Dustin Trebilco, a nearby business owner familiar with the camp.

Several of those makeshift homes on Tuesday went up in flames. Fire crews worked to put out the fire, with flames reaching up to 20 feet at one point.

“They all beg at the corner surrounding our businesses, which affects all of us,” said Trebilco, who owns an auto repair business down the street from the camp.

He added that other business owners have been calling police about the camp for months.

“Nothing’s been done,” he said. “There’s no presence of Richmond P.D. here.”

Trebilco reported that aggressive panhandling, drug use and trespassing are rampant in the area.

“”They do not own the property, they do not have a lease,” he said. “There should’ve been somebody out here like the HOPE task force.”

The HOPE Unit is a division of Richmond Police Department that pinpoints homeless encampments and helps re-home the people living there. 8News called the department to find out how many calls they have received about the Atmore Drive encampment, but did not get an exact number.

“In the end, this (fire) could’ve cost everyone their businesses,” Trebilco said, adding that he hopes the fire will motivate authorities to safely relocate the people living in the camp.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. No injuries were reported.

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