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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

CMPD Says It Has 'Duty' To Help Shut Homeless Camps; Many Will Move Elsewhere

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say despite health concerns with the coronavirus pandemic, they have an obligation to help property owners remove homeless encampments. But advocates for homeless residents worry many may just move their tents elsewhere. 

The issue is an immediate one for people living on a vacant lot at 12th and Poplar streets, in view of the uptown skyline just east of I-277.  

As many as 100 people have lived there at various times since March. About 25-30 people remain. They've been given until this Friday at 5 p.m. to leave, or police will help clear the lot. CMPD Capt. Brad Koch said Wednesday that police have "a duty and an obligation" to respond and help property owners with removing trespassers. 

"Although public health officials do discourage the removal of homeless encampments, specifically during a pandemic, public health guidelines do not supersede state law or personal property rights," Koch said during a press conference at CMPD headquarters. 

Koch said CMPD tries to avoid confrontation, and to persuade people living on the street to leave voluntarily. 

"The goal of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is to always gain voluntary cooperation, voluntary compliance with the individuals who are on the property, and get them to voluntarily leave," he said.

CMPD has helped remove people from other encampments near uptown in recent months, often drawing attention for removals. But, said Koch: "Our role simply is to assist the property owners with the removal of the individuals who refuse to cooperate with the lawful request from the property owner to vacate their property." 

At 12th and Poplar streets, property owner WB Moore Co., an electrical contractor, has wanted since March to remove people living there in tents. CMPD helped serve notices once before. But the company then decided to delay the removal because of the spread of the coronavirus, Dave Clewley, the company's risk control director, said earlier this week. 

Clewley said the company plans to begin demolition on Monday, Aug. 17, for a project that will include a parking lot and storage for the business, which has offices across Poplar Street. 

Trying To Find Housing 

CMPD and WB Moore have brought in two social service agencies to help relocate homeless residents. Case workers from Roof Above and Supportive Housing Communities are trying to help people find shelters or other housing.

"If you're in a place where you call home and you're displaced, it creates a lot of stress and anxiety and that's what our team members are experiencing with people they're engaging," Roof Above's Randall Hitt said at CMPD Wednesday. 

But Hitt said many are likely to stay on the street, especially those with mental illness or other challenges. 

"I think it's good that we're out there every day providing some consistency in hopes that by the time we get to Friday that there's some plan," he said, "although the reality is that there'll be many people that disperse and we just might not know where they go."

Finding housing for people living on the street is difficult right now, according to people who work on the problem. Shelters have reduced their capacity to allow for social distancing because of COVID-19, so there aren't as many beds. 

Funding To Address The Need 

But social service agencies and Mecklenburg County have contracted to use about 420 rooms in five motels around the city to house homeless residents. Some have the coronavirus or have been exposed to it, and need to be isolated. Others have been moved out of shelters as they cut capacity. 

As of July 31, 396 people were living in those motel rooms in Mecklenburg County - 96 with COVID-19 and another 194 in quarantine, according to the N.C. Division of Emergency Management. In most cases, people are housed for 30 days. 

The rooms are paid for in part with Federal Emergency Management Agency COVID-19 relief funds. That's managed by the Division of Emergency Management, which expects FEMA to reimburse participating governments and nonprofits for up to 75% of their costs. The rest comes from public or private local funds. 

Just this week, North Carolina officials announced they are changing the way they pay for the program. Instead of applying for the money and waiting for it, local governments or nonprofits now can proceed with programs and seek quick reimbursement. State officials promise payments within 20 days. 

"This pandemic has created an urgent need for more non-congregate sheltering options, and we’re acting quickly as a state to help our counties and local communities respond," N.C. Emergency Management Director Michael Sprayberry said in a press release. "Having the state cover the costs of this sheltering up front and then handle the federal reimbursement relieves county governments of that fiscal and administrative burden, and opens non-congregate sheltering to more people who need it."

Mecklenburg County's most recent count of homeless residents totaled 3,111, as of June 30.  Of those, 508 are living on the street. 

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