Gastonia targets trailers, debris at encampment for homeless

GASTONIA, N.C. — The city of Gastonia is taking action against the operator of the city’s largest encampment for homeless people and hitting him with a possible five-figure fine.

The city says the property is jeopardizing people’s safety and health, but the man in charge of the encampment says they’re keeping him from helping the city’s most vulnerable people.

The camp is on N. Oakland Street, about a block away from the Gastonia Police Department. Pastor Moses Colbert is the operator of Faith, Hope, and Love Ministries, and he says about 100 people live in tents beyond the nearby trees.

Colbert told Channel 9′s Ken Lemon that several trailers on the property will help change and save lives. But the city says the trailers shouldn’t be here, and they’re asking a judge to haul them off.

“The therapist will be in here. This is the computer room,” Colbert said while showing Lemon one of the trailers.

He says they’re the cornerstones for educating people in the community about fentanyl use, and preparing them for a better life.

The city of Gastonia says the trailers have to go. The site has been accruing fines daily for buildings being put up without a permit and for trash and scrap items on the lot.

Colbert says city employees told him to simply pay the fines and make adjustments to meet the code. He said he’s just now learning that the city actually wants the trailers gone.

“We spent thousands upon thousands of dollars to come into compliance, and now you want us to move them,” Colbert said.

Gastonia’s assistant city manager told Lemon that Colbert received certified letters warning about fines and explaining that no one can add buildings on a lot without first getting permits from the city.

“We want to make sure the structures are safe, they are property inspected,” said Gastonia Assistant City Manager Quentin McPhatter. “We wouldn’t want any harm to come of the citizens.”

He added that the debris on the lot poses a health hazard.

“Just want to make sure that the environment is safe, free from rodents free from anything that would affect adjacent property owners,” he said.

On Monday, the city will ask a judge to make Colbert move the trailers and clear the lot or let the city do it and send Colbert the bill.

McPhatter told Channel 9 that no one living in the tent city will be impacted, but Colbert disagrees.

Colbert said paying for the changes or a $60,000 fine takes money away from his efforts to feed and assist people here.

City leaders say the best help is assuring the people at the encampment are safe.

(WATCH: Charlotte cafe provides training to mothers experiencing homelessness)