CHARLOTTE, N.C. — 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.
A few community organizations walked 12th Street to see if any action would take place shortly after Mecklenburg County’s abatement order of imminent hazard took effect.
“I am just glad that the majority of the residents here have voluntarily left,” Lucille Puckett said.
The Mecklenburg County Health Director issued the order 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.
In a news conference Friday before the order took effect, the county estimated only 15 or 20 people would stay past the 5 p.m. deadline. Community groups believe that estimate sounds right; Channel 9 only spotted a few.
Property owners are responsible for asking them to leave so the area can be cleaned. The encampment must be cleared by Monday at 5 p.m.
“If it is determined there are people at the site, it will be up to those folks to determine how to have those folks removed,” County Manager Dena Diorio said.
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.”
The abatement order of imminent hazard came seemingly out of nowhere. Nonprofits, government agencies and the residents of Tent City said they had little to no notice about the 72-hour window to vacate.
Despite the chaos and drama that would ensue, hundreds of people are going to bed in a better place for the next 90 days. During those 90 days, the residents of the hotel will work with a case manager to find a more permanent housing solution.
“I am glad that the ones that already have their rooms and things are able to get a good night sleep, hot meals, a nice shower and peace of mind for at least 90 days,” Puckett said.
Expectations of only 80 or 90 residents taking the county up on the hotel offer were shattered. The final number of people seeking the county’s help is around 210.
County Manager Dena Diorio is proud of that, and thanked all the staffers, volunteers and nonprofits who helped make it happen.
“At the end of the day it has been a truly extraordinary effort that we have been able to accomplish this in a short amount of time and really keep people safe,” she said. “I feel good about it.”
‘A new sense of hope’: Tent City residents relocated to hotel
People living in Tent City outside uptown Charlotte have cleared the encampment, leaving empty tents and muddy open fields behind.
The county issued an abatement of imminent hazard order Tuesday forcing the residents to leave the encampment by 5 p.m. Friday due to a rat infestation and inhumane conditions.
Residents were relocated to a hotel funded by the county for 90 days. During those 90 days, a case manager will work with them to find a more permanent housing solution.
Mecklenburg County is also offering guests of the hotel three box meals a day, laundry service, peer support, substance use treatment and mental health resources.
The county used small buses to pick up residents from the encampment and take them to the hotel.
Eyewitness News reporter Mark Becker was at Tent City Friday morning. He watched as residents lined up for the buses in groups of three and four after they had filled out the paperwork for the move.
Channel 9 learned that about 210 residents signed up, which is more than the 140 people thought to be living at the encampment.
150 people were taken to the hotel Thursday and an additional 60 moved in Friday, according to the county.
We spoke with several of them who said they are glad to be moving out.
Tent City resident Steven Robinson called the last several months at the encampment “hell on earth” but said the option to move to the hotel changes everything.
“It’s indescribable,” he said. “It’s a new sense of hope, that’s what it is, it’s hope and purpose.”
Channel 9 learned that one hotel filled up so the county moved some residents to a second one.
The property owners now have 72 hours to clear the encampment of rodents.
County leaders said they believe the property owners will submit rodent eradication plans on Saturday and cleanup of the tents and leftover belongings will start around 8 a.m.
Health Director Gibbie Harris issued a warning that pest control companies will be using poison to kill the rats and people should not be near them while the process is taking place.
After the rats are removed from the sites, it will be up to the property owners to determine whether they allow encampments on their properties. Harris said some of the property owners are planning to put fences up to prevent encampments from forming.
Cox Media Group