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CDC Advises Against Homeless Removals Now, But CMPD Clears Camps

CMPD officers are helping to clear homeless residents from camps near uptown, leaving many looking for new places to live. That's raising concern among advocates for the homeless, who say the action flies in the face of guidance from federal health officials about preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

The action affects at least two encampments just east of uptown. One is under a bridge near the N.C. Music Factory, where a business owner complained about people camping on state property and lighting fires. The other is a wooded area off 12th and Poplar streets, where the property owner also complained.  

A CMPD spokesman said Friday that people have agreed to voluntarily leave the areas, and that there were no arrests or citations.  

Franklin says he was given 24 hours to move from this encampment off 12th Street near uptown.
Credit David Boraks / WFAE
Franklin says he was given 24 hours to move from this encampment off 12th Street near uptown.

At the 12th Street site Friday, a man named Franklin said they were given until 8 a.m. Saturday to leave.   

"They gave us 24 hours from today to tomorrow," he said. He isn't sure where he'll go. 

"Honestly, I'm not sure. I'll just try to find a spot, I guess, in the woods, or along the railroad tracks, or the side of the street up there by the Urban Ministry," he said. 

That's the Urban Ministry Center on North College Street.  Many people have already moved there in recent days.  On Friday afternoon, there was a line of about 20 tents on grass.  

One of the campers, named Will, said a few days ago there were only a few tents there. He moved after police evicted him and others from a building nearby. He says he thinks the police have been more active lately. 

"The cops come by and run us out, and give us like one day," he said. "And if we don't get it up, they come by and throw everything we own away. Even if you're there, they won't let you get nothing out."     

CMPD says it often follows through on property owners' complaints like this. What's different right now, and what advocates for the homeless are worried about, is the public health emergency we're in because of the coronavirus. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasissued guidance specifically about homeless encampments. 

It says that unless there are individual housing units for people, authorities should not clear encampments while we're seeing community spread of the virus. The CDC says, "Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread."

People who work with the homeless are trying to address the problem. Liz Clasen-Kelly of the Urban Ministry Center says she only just learned of the CMPD actions Friday afternoon. She said in an email: "The reality is we have hundreds of people who are living outside. For everyone’s safety, we need to create solutions to help all residents, including those experiencing homelessness, reduce their movement in our community. The CDC has provided clear guidance that now is not the time to remove encampments." 

Heath Burchett agrees. He's the founder of a ministry called Watchmen of the Streets.

"We've always faced the threat of our homeless neighbors having to be moved. They're essentially trespassing wherever they are," he said. "I just I feel like clearing camps out right now is just a bad decision." 

WFAE's David Boraks reports on CMPD removal of homeless camps near uptown.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.