As deadline to vacate Tent City looms, county and city leaders spar

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — The Mecklenburg County manager called out Charlotte’s city manager, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday for not helping those living in Tent City.

On Tuesday, county health director Gibbie Harris issued an abatement of imminent hazard order for residents of North End’s Tent City, citing inhumane conditions. Those who live at the encampment have to vacate the premises by Friday at 5 p.m.

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

Harris said the homeless encampment is infested with rats. Pictures taken last week show rodent droppings, burrow holes, trash and dead rats across the fields at 12th Street between Tryon and College streets where more than 140 people have been living for months.

Since issuing the abatement order, county management has said all residents have been offered a hotel room or shelter space.

County Manager Dena Diorio said about 180 people have accepted that offer, which is actually more than the number of people thought to be living in the encampment.

County officials held a news conference Thursday where they made it clear they have a hotel for the residents to move into, but getting them there has been a problem, largely because the help they were counting on isn’t going to be there.

Diorio said she thought she had a commitment from Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones to provide Charlotte Area Transit System buses, but that fell through.

According to Diorio, the city provided CATS buses but no drivers. She said the city then offered firefighters to drive the buses but the fire chief wouldn’t let them drive without security, so the county is using small buses to transport a few people at a time.

“Let me be clear, that this is not a Mecklenburg County problem. This is a community problem,” Diorio said. “At a time where we have people living with rats, it is unfortunate that the city and the sheriff would refuse to help. It is particularly troubling since one of the property owners is the City of Charlotte.”

Despite the transportation issues, all property owners are cooperating and working with the county on the order. They have 72 hours after residents are relocated to clear and sanitize the area.

Diorio said she is hopeful everyone will be relocated by the Friday 5 p.m. deadline, but if they need assistance to remove people from the encampment, they will reach back out to law enforcement. The county is taking a hands-off approach and hoping for voluntary compliance.

When asked, Diorio said she could explore legal action to force officers to enforce the order but indicated she doesn’t think that will be necessary because of the community groups working to transition people out of Tent City.

The city, CMPD, sheriff’s office and Charlotte Fire Department sent the following statements in response to Diorio’s comments:

City of Charlotte

“Like many stakeholders, the City of Charlotte was given little notice of the County’s abatement order. On Wednesday, we committed to supporting the County and were asked to help by providing transportation. We had committed to providing buses to help transport the residents of the encampment to hotels and shelters. The County was aware of that commitment on Wednesday and we were discussing with them the logistics and their needs. As of Wednesday night, we were trying to determine how to best meet the transportation needs and the County informed us they no longer needed our support for transportation. We never said we would not support the County but were asking for critical details to understand the scope of their need and the County was unable to provide those details and it was the County who withdrew their request for busses. The City never refused to help and we did not back away from our commitment to provide transportation.

We have asked the County how they intend to address people who refuse to leave the encampments and they have yet to provide any solution to that outside of asking law enforcement to physically remove those individuals. The people in the encampments are not criminals and we do not believe they should be treated as such. CMPD is working with community and advocacy groups to identify other resources for people who remain on the site after 5 p.m. Friday.

This is a serious issue and one we have been working on with the County. To be clear, Mecklenburg County is the lead agency for homeless and social services in our community. Since 2018, the City has provided more than $35 million to support efforts to end and prevent homelessness.

Since the County issued its abatement order on Tuesday, the City has been working to determine how to best satisfy the abatement order, while also respecting the people impacted. As a property owner, we have committed to the County that we will clean the site once they have relocated the individuals, as the County committed to doing.

We have and will continue to work with the County and other stakeholders to address this difficult issue.

Below are some recent actions taken by the City of Charlotte to address the homelessness in our community:

  • Overall, since 2018, the City has provided $35,876,719 to support efforts to end and prevent homelessness.
  • At the very beginning of the pandemic, the City seeded $1 million to the COVID-19 Response Fund administered by United Way and Foundation for the Carolinas. This helped to successfully raise over $16 million in community funds to provide assistance to residents during the pandemic, including assisting with shelter and housing needs.
  • In April 2020, the City provided $1,388,000 for 120 extended-stay rooms and prepared food for individuals and households experiencing homelessness, as well as $1,225,000 for security, utility and first month’s rent deposits to help individuals and families that are transitioning out of homelessness find permanent housing. The City also provided $2,228,000 to establish a rent and mortgage relief program to help people at risk of homelessness avoid evictions and foreclosures. This support includes helping households residing in hotels pay their rent.
  • Also, in April 2020, the City awarded $800,000 to the Statesville Avenue Shelter to expand its facility.
  • In June 2020, the City approved another $2 million to Roof Above to provide additional supportive housing through their acquisition of a hotel in order to prevent homelessness associated with the pandemic, and to further achieve the recommended six feet of social distancing in homeless shelters. At the same time, we provided another $8 million for rent and mortgage relief to help keep people in their homes, including those residing in hotels.
  • In August 2020, the City approved the recommendation of the Housing Task Force to provide $3.4 million for rapid rehousing and supportive services to serve individuals and families experiencing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness, and individuals and families unstably housed in hotels. These City funds leveraged $1,020,000 recommended by Mecklenburg County Continuum of Care.
  • In October 2020, the City approved $500,000 to help the Salvation Army Center of Hope expand their facility to help house additional women and children. We also approved $3,500,000 for utility assistance and an additional $6,000,000 for rent and mortgage relief to help keep people at risk of homelessness in their homes.

We never said we would not support the County but were asking for critical details to understand the scope of their need and the County was unable to provide those details and it was the County who withdrew their request for busses.”

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CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings

“Mecklenburg County did not involve CMPD in any conversations about this Order of Abatement of Imminent Hazard that was issued by the county public health director on Feb. 16, 2021.

This order is a civil order, and as such, the civil order does not allow for any criminal law enforcement responses at this time. The order is enforceable against the property owners, only, not the guests staying in tents.

After Friday at 5:00 pm., CMPD will work with the County regarding enforcement of potential criminal violations of the abatement order.

CMPD was in constant conversations with multiple partners including all of the property owners asking for as much notice as possible about any vacancy notification to work through this transition with those impacted individuals.

We agree this is a public health concern, however, this is not how this should be managed. CMPD is not going to criminalize homelessness.

Over the years, CMPD officers have worked extensively with members of our homeless community to connect them with resources and support services. If any individuals remain after the county’s deadline, CMPD will assist those remaining to connect them with resources voluntarily.

CMPD will respond to any calls for service, including trespass calls from the property owners, as it normally would.”

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Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden

“Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, I have always assisted Mecklenburg County when called upon with a clear and concise plan of action. Every Monday and Wednesday I am on a policy call with all city and county officials, an opportune time to discuss any protocols or concerns, however, logistics on the removal of persons or property from the North End Encampment have never been mentioned.

On Tuesday, February 16, 2021 I received a call from Charlotte Fire Department officials stating that CATS would be providing 10 buses to transport persons from the encampment and I was asked if deputies from the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office would drive the buses. Due to limited details and logistics, I declined. Wednesday evening, I received another call asking to provide security, again, with limited details and logistics, I declined to involve the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office.

I have been contacted regarding the encampment by more grass-roots organizations and provided more details about the removal process from those organizations than any elected official.

As Sheriff, I am always willing to assist and support, when a thorough plan of action is presented. In October 2020, Mecklenburg County Public Health issued an Abatement of Imminent Hazard Order for United House of Prayer. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office was contacted, the order was thoroughly discussed, and MCSO assisted as well as provided a daily detailed report to Mecklenburg County Public Health.

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office remains committed to the citizens of Mecklenburg County.”

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Charlotte Fire Department

“The Charlotte Fire Department (CFD) is called to serve all people by minimizing the risk to life and is committed to doing so while also ensuring the safety of our personnel.

CFD received little notice of Mecklenburg County’s plan to issue an abatement order in response to the conditions at the North End Encampment, but has been willing to work with the county to determine the best course of action.

A formal request for firefighters to provide transportation was made late Wednesday evening and through the course of those discussions, it was made clear that should CFD provide personnel to assist that security be present. This has been standard practice on all similar missions that CFD has fulfilled at the request of the county.

At no point did CFD indicate that security from a particular law enforcement agency would not suffice, only that security must be present, as has been the standard protocol.

Our offer to assist was never withdrawn and as of Thursday morning, CFD had a plan in place to provide assistance, if the security element was addressed. The county withdrew their request for transportation and as the situation stands, CFD continues to be willing and able to provide assistance.”