SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — As we approach the third year in a global pandemic, homelessness continues to ravage through cities all across the U.S. — and the beloved Hostess City is no exception.

During his weekly press conference, Mayor Van Johnson says he took a ride around Savannah this weekend and noticed that something has changed. Johnson observed a proliferation of unhoused individuals in the city’s streets, squares, and throughout the community. Something he says isn’t familiar to Savannah.

“This is a community wide problem, and areas that have never seen homelessness before, they’re beginning to see it now…hence it’s a great opportunity to rally around the point of making sure that we are tending to the needs of those who don’t have roofs over their heads,” Mayor Johnson explained.

Mayor Johnson referenced complaints about aggressive panhandlers which can become a nuisance when approaching people.

While the mayor admits it is a growing issue, he wants to approach the situation in a more ethical manner.

“I don’t see it as a problem, I see it as an opportunity…to be of assistance,” Johnson explained.

Johnson was adamant about refusing to criminalize homelessness or pushing unhoused individuals to certain areas, but rather attempting to understand the root cause on a case-by-case basis.

“We’re not going to criminalize being homeless. There are people who contact us saying, ‘do something about them, lock them up!’ And we’re not going to do that. We’re not going to do that, that’s not Savannah, that’s not our narrative, and because it’s not illegal to be homeless. It’s not illegal to be in public space,” Mayor Johnson said.

Mayor Van Johnson is planning to meet with community partners in the coming weeks to better understand the situation and find ways to offer relief.

“There are a lot of agencies that receive money, there are a lot of groups whose aim is to address homelessness. So, you’ll see in the coming weeks as we continue to work with our homeless-serving partners, opportunities to really be able to understand what’s going on, and more importantly how we deal with it,” said Mayor Johnson.

Watch the full press conference below.