CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Remnants from the homeless encampment near uptown Charlotte still remain after dozens of people packed up and moved out Friday.
Moments after the clock struck 5 p.m., representatives from the city of Charlotte huddled up and strategized. The city and four other property owners have until Monday at 5 p.m. to clear the Tent City encampment and get rid of the rat infestation.
The Mecklenburg County Health Director issued the abatement order of imminent hazard on Tuesday, citing a rodent infestation and air quality concerns due to open burning. Residents of Tent City were given until Friday at 5 p.m. to leave the encampment.
In exchange for leaving their tents, Mecklenburg County offered a 90-day stay in a hotel. At the hotel, residents will receive three box meals a day, laundry services and optional resources including, mental health treatment and substance use counseling.
Some have questioned about what will happen after 90 days.
“No one’s goal on day 91 is to be put back out in the street,” Councilman Larken Egleston said Monday. “This hopefully will be step one in a long process to get folks back on their feet and back into a stable situation.”
Egleston, whose district covers a portion of the encampment, said the issue will be long-term if the city, the county and private citizens don’t coordinate the good will that exists citywide.”
Egleston said that a solution would be an expansion of a program the county already uses, which provides shelter first then meets the needs to create stability.
“It really starts at where we’re at now, which is getting people into shelters, trying to address those issues and from there,” Egleston said. ‘It’s got to be into a housing-first strategy.”
King David is one of the people who was homeless and moved to a hotel.
“Definitely a feeling of relief,” he said Friday.
Contractors hit the area along North Tryon and 12th Street, while David and several other homeless people watched.
“On a daily basis, how many rats would I see at night? Oh man, it was like a colony. If you see it, you would see groups or a colony of rats. A huge, massive infestation,” David said.
Property owners were responsible for asking them to leave so the area could be cleaned.
All five property owners are cooperating with the county on the order. The property owners will have to submit a pest control plan outlining how rodents will be exterminated. City officials predict a relatively smooth cleanup process.
“That is the goal,” Councilmember Dimple Ajmera said. “The city has to clean up the site and ensure folks have a roof over their head, and they are getting the supportive services.”
For those who chose to remain at their tents, community groups and the property owners spoke with them about leaving voluntarily.
Police could have been called as a last resort and at the property owner’s request. Health officials said given all the poison that comes with rat extermination, it just isn’t safe for people to be around when that starts.
“It is not a good situation to be in and that is one of the reasons for relocating these individuals before this process started,” Health Director Gibbie Harris said.
Some people protested Friday ahead of the 5 p.m. deadline for people to leave the Tent City, saying the homeless people should have gotten more time to move.
Activists said Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis played a part in all of this.
“We’ve allowed that situation to deteriorate into a humanitarian crisis,” community activist Kyle Kirby said. “We’re all just a few paychecks from being homeless ourselves, so I want folks to know about the issue with affordable housing in Charlotte.”
While a lot of residents didn’t want to leave, David said it will give him a chance to get on his feet.
“You have three months to get it together, to get housing together; or you are going to end up back in the shelter that they are going to end up reopening,” he said.
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