Fayetteville staff presented a plan this week to implement a new ordinance that grants the city more authority in removing homeless encampments.
At a meeting Aug. 8, the City Council passed the ordinance 8-2, with council member Courtney Banks-McLaughlin and former council member Yvonne Kinston voting against the measure.
The ordinance, which is similar to others in major urban centers across North Carolina such as Charlotte and Raleigh, will allow the city to clear encampments on any city-owned property, including rights of way, which are public lands usually used for roadways and utilities.
It’s something that the city has worked on for several months as the City Council directed staff to formulate policy in May, Carolina Public Press reported.
“The core point of this is to protect the health and safety when we find concerns where encampments have crossed the threshold to where they are a public health or public safety concern,” Chris Cauley, Fayetteville’s economic and community development director, said in May.
The ordinance does make an exception. If there are no beds available at local homeless shelters, officials will not clear the encampment unless the camp “poses a danger to the person who is there or the public,” said City Manager Doug Hewitt at the Fayetteville City Council meeting on Monday.
How it will happen
Brook Redding, the city’s special projects manager, laid out how the city will implement the ordinance over the next several weeks, detailing three phases of the plan.
The plan started Monday and will end Dec. 5, when the ordinance will be in full effect.
Starting on Monday, city staff began engaging with homeless people at identified encampments with the purpose of education about the new ordinance. No clearing or citation has begun yet.
“We conduct street outreach. We go and engage those encampments periodically. We inform them that the ordinance has been adopted. We let them know what that looks like in terms of the rule and the law,” Redding said.
Starting Oct. 10, the city will shift to the next phase. Staff will continue education, but police officers will start verbally warning people they are in violation of the law. City staff will also begin classifying encampments based on public health risk.
“We’ll have conducted a risk assessment. We will have stacked that information together and begin to triage those encampments that are quantified as high risk,” Redding said.
The final phase will begin Nov. 7 when officers will begin issuing citations. Education about the ordinance will continue as it did in the first two phases.
Full enforcement will start Dec. 5.
The PIT count, conducted on one day every year, measures the number of homeless people in a given community. In Fayetteville, that count decreased from 515 in 2016 to 297 in 2020. Due to precautions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of homeless individuals not in shelters was not counted in 2021. The preliminary count for 2022 increased to 475, though that is subject to change pending confirmation from HUD.
Banks-McLaughlin, who voted against the ordinance, said at the Aug. 8 meeting that while she understood that “tents are eyesores,” she was concerned about where the homeless people would go once the camps are cleared.
“We need to consider that these individuals don’t have anywhere to go. We have a shortage of shelters in the city,” she said. “Right now, it is premature to vote on something like this.”
Cape Fear Valley Health and Cumberland County are in the early stages of bringing a new homeless shelter to the area, CityView Today reported in March. But that project is not yet complete.
“How can we basically run them off the streets with nowhere to go?” Banks-McLaughlin said. “Where will these people go? Do we have an answer for that?”
In response, Mayor Mitch Colvin pointed out that the ordinance largely only grants the authority for removal if there are no beds available in homeless shelters.
“We are encouraging the circumventing of the system that we are talking about wanting to invest more in,” the mayor said. “We’re giving the option to sleep beside a dangerous highway.”
Council member D.J. Haire stressed the need to remove encampments along exits of major highways such as those along Gillespie Street south of downtown.
“We all have a passion for our homeless and how we can better serve them, but also at the same time, we want to help protect those that are in these dangerous areas,” he said.
Council member Shakeyla Ingram encouraged the public to reach out to other elected officials, such as the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners and representatives in the N.C. House and Senate, with concerns about providing aid for those that are homeless.
“We are exhausting all that we possibly can to help out our homeless community,” Ingram said.