County provides Tent City residents with hotel rooms but for how long?

CHARLOTTE — Citing inhumane conditions, Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris announced on Tuesday an abatement of imminent hazard order for residents of North End’s “Tent City.” Those who live at the encampment will have to vacate the premises by Friday at 5 p.m.

During a meeting Tuesday night, Harris showed commissioners pictures taken last week of rodent droppings, burrow holes, trash and dead rats. Queen City Nerve reporter Justin LaFrancois tweeted video from last January of rats in Tent City.

[READ: Mecklenburg County’s order of abatement of imminent hazard]

“This is not a situation that anybody should be living in,” Harris said. “It is not safe.”

Harris said the presence of live and dead rats presents a public health risk to residents of the encampment and people who live nearby in uptown.

“The reality is we are looking at a whole other set of diseases that these folks can be exposed to outside of COVID,” Harris said.

Leaders said an overwhelming amount of food donations and food in tents contributed to the rodent infestation.

The North End homeless encampment at 12th Street between Tryon and College streets has been growing since the beginning of the pandemic.

[READ MORE: Leaders discuss how to handle growing number of homeless tents outside uptown]

The eviction notice comes despite the CDC recommendation to not displace people in encampments due to COVID-19. But Mecklenburg County commissioners are backing Harris and said it is the right thing to do.

“This is the most humane thing we can do,” Commissioner Laura Meier said. “We can’t let people live among rats.”

“It seems inhumane,” Chair George Dunlap said. “But it is even more inhumane to have people living in filth.”

Tent City sits on land owned by five different entities: American Towers, the city of Charlotte, NCDOT, Morningstar and Roof Above.

The entities will have to hire a pest control company within 24 hours of the residents vacating the property. According to Mecklenburg County’s order, the county will assist residents with moving their personal belongings.

“Our goal is to treat them with respect and dignity,” Assistant County Manager Anthony Trotman said.

According to county management, all residents will be offered a hotel room or shelter space. An estimated 150 people live in Tent City.

“We have a health hazard we have to address and try to make sure people are safe,” County Manager Dena Diorio said.

The county cannot force any resident into a shelter or hotel space. Leaders expect many of the people living in the camps will move to another location in the county.

“This problem is really about a public health issue. It is not about eliminating tents,” Trotman said. “After we deal with this particular site, we may see still see tents in the community.”

A question left outstanding on Tuesday was how long people would be able to stay in the hotel being offered by Mecklenburg County. On Wednesday, reporter Joe Bruno learned that they will be allowed to stay in the hotel for 90 days. During those 90 days, a case manager will work with them to find a more permanent housing solution.

Mecklenburg County officials released rules that Tent City residents will have to agree to in order to stay at the hotel. They will not be allowed to have visitors in their rooms. If they check out, they can’t check back in. No alcohol or illegal substances are allowed. Guests of the hotel are not allowed to use personal equipment to cook food. They will have to remain at the hotel at designated time unless they are working.

Mecklenburg County will provide transportation to the hotel. At the hotel they will be allowed to have two bags of personal belongings. COVID-19 testing is available prior to arrival, and the vaccine will be offered to people over 65. Guests of the hotel will receive three box meals a day and laundry services. Mecklenburg County is also offering guests of the hotel peer support, substance use treatment and mental health resources.

Mecklenburg County has spent more than $7 million for hotels during the pandemic. The hotel is funded by money from FEMA.

“The shelter hotel will be open for 90 days, during which time, staff will work with each individual to find another housing resource,” the county said in a news release. “For other people interested in shelter resources, please call 211. County staff and community partners are working on-site to help residents know their options for shelter and other resources including access to mental health and substance use services, housing navigation and case management. Transportation, meals, laundry and security services will be provided as well. Encampment residents are not required to show ID to gain entry into these shelter accommodations or to access services. COVID testing will be provided as the individuals leave the Encampment site and COVID vaccine will be offered to all aged 65 and up.”

Roof Above, the agency that works with the homeless population in Charlotte, told Channel 9 they were “extremely surprised” by the county’s decision to empty Tent City, and they are working on finding alternatives for the residents.

County leaders plan to hold a news briefing to talk more about the plans for the encampment on Thursday morning.

Here’s how you can help those living in Tent City

Community partners working with the county to help those living in the encampment include The Salvation Army, Block Love CLT, Hearts Beat as One, Hearts for the Invisible, Just Do It Movement, CATS, Loaves and Fishes and Goodwill.

Roof Above can be reached at 704-334-3187 or click here.

You can call the Salvation Army in Charlotte at 704-348-2560, ext. 207, or click here.

(Roof Above and the Salvation Army offer help for prospective employers who may be looking to hire someone who has experienced homelessness.)

You can volunteer with Block Love CLT. Food donations are also accepted and the organization has an Amazon Wish List linked on its website. For more information, call 980-288-4895 or email team@blockloveclt.org.

Loaves and Fishes food donations are distributed to people who need help. Call 704-523-4333 or click here.

Clothing can be dropped off at Goodwill donation centers. Click here to find one near you.

Volunteers trying to help

On Wednesday, a handful of volunteers were out at the encampment, doing what they could to help.

“The mission is to get everybody into some type of safe emergency shelter, hotel,” said volunteer Bethany McDonald.

A man who calls himself King David has lived in Tent City for months -- with the rats, the cold and the uncertainty that comes with being homeless.

“We’re just looking for shelter,” he told Channel 9. “We want to be warm. We want to be treated like anyone else out here.”

The dozens of people scattered along the ragged edge of uptown are facing a new uncertainty since the county declared the camp a health hazard and ordered them out by 5 p.m. Friday.

“It’s definitely a challenge with the time frame being so short,” said volunteer Kenya Joseph.

Joseph and McDonald were among a handful of volunteers who came to help ease the pain on Wednesday.

“I can’t believe they’re doing this,” cried Dishan Williams, who was once homeless. He had spent time on the streets himself, but is now worried about his aunt, who has been living in one of the tents.

“Please get them out of there, because I want my aunt to get somewhere,” he told Channel 9.

Reporter Mark Becker tagged along as they found Williams’ aunt and told her that she’d be leaving Tent City.

“Alright girl, we’re going to get you into that hotel and we’re going to get you a room,” Williams said. “We got you, mama.”

North End Encampment Abatement of Imminent Hazard Order:

Yesterday (Feb. 16), Public Health issued an emergency Order out of concern for the health and safety of individuals living in the North End Encampment (“Tent City”, located on 12th Street between Tryon and College) and the public health threat that this situation poses for the larger community.

After receiving a complaint regarding the potential health issues at the Encampment in mid-January, Mecklenburg County Public Health Environmental Health staff have worked with the City of Charlotte, the homeless provider community and the business owners to clean up the site and assure that it is safe for residents. However, over the last two weeks, conditions have worsened significantly and a growing rodent infestation was recognized late last week. Rodents may transmit disease to humans through direct contact as well as through exposure to a rodent’s feces or urine. The current living environment of the encampment is neither safe nor healthy.

There are approximately 150 Encampment residents. Emergency shelters have made space for nearly 50 individuals already who had reported living in the Encampment, with dozens more men accessing Roof Above’s winter shelter each night. The County is working with community partners to expand existing shelter capacity through an additional shelter hotel. This shelter hotel is only for people living in the North End Encampment area. The shelter hotel will be open for 90 days, during which time, staff will work with each individual to find another housing resource. For other people interested in shelter resources, please call 211.

County staff and community partners are working on-site to help residents know their options for shelter and other resources including access to mental health and substance use services, housing navigation, and case management. Transportation, meals, laundry and security services will be provided as well. Encampment residents are not required to show ID to gain entry into these shelter accommodations or to access services. COVID testing will be provided as the individuals leave the Encampment site and COVID vaccine will be offered to all aged 65 and up.

According to the Order, Encampment residents must leave the area within 72 hours. The County is leading this process with social service providers, not law enforcement. Law enforcement would be used only for support of our social workers.

Community partners working with us on this effort include: Roof Above, The Salvation Army, Block Love Charlotte, Hearts Beat as One, Hearts for the Invisible, Just Do It Movement and CATS. If individuals are interested in helping or donating to this effort, please consider working through one of our trusted partners listed above.