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As 2020 Fades, Persistent Crises Reemerge: The Week In Review From WFAE

021721 Tent City 1.JPG
David Boraks
Mecklenburg County ordered the closure of "Tent City" along 12th Street for health reasons.

As 2020 Fades, Persistent Crises Reemerge

In some ways, the political furor of 2020 and the end of the Trump era is fading. In others, it's still as raw as ever. The fallout from the former president's second Senate impeachment acquittal last weekend continued into the start of this week.

And Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr's vote to convict Trump shoved him to the forefront of that fallout in North Carolina. While some lauded the outgoing senator's decision, others were furious. By Monday evening, Burr had been censured by the state GOP, whose party chair called the senator's vote "shocking and disappointing."

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R.-N.C., was censured by the North Carolina Republican Party for his vote to convict former President Donald Trump in Trump's second impeachment trial.

The North Carolina Republican Party central committee's vote to censure Burr was unanimous. Burr, for his part, called it "a sad day for North Carolina Republicans."

"My party's leadership has chosen loyalty to one man over the core principles of the Republican Party and the founders of our great nation," he said in a statement after the censure vote.

In another show of 2020's staying power, delays in reporting from last year's national census could push Charlotte's municipal elections into 2022. Precinct-by-precinct population counts won't be released until late summer, delaying a requirement to redraw City Council districts to comply with the Supreme Court's "one person, one vote" precedent. Charlotte's city attorney says holding elections this year could open Charlotte up to legal challenges.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, meanwhile, is asking the state for permission to delay the school board election until 2022, too. If both the city and countywide elections are delayed, that would also derail a sales tax referendum meant to help fund major transit projects in Charlotte.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signs a bill that will ban most abortions in his state.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law Thursday a bill banning most abortions less than an hour after it cleared the state legislature. The next day, a federal judge suspended the law.

Winter weather hit the Deep South and left millions without power in Texas this week. North Carolina was struck by severe weather, too, including a tornado on Tuesday that killed three people and leveled homes along the coast. A winter storm that moved through the state on Thursday, however, caused fewer problems than anticipated but resulted in COVID-19 vaccine shipment delays.

Beyond the political theater, beyond the breaking news and the myriad ways in which the pandemic is still impacting everyone's lives, another crisis has persisted in Charlotte. A crisis that has become all the more apparent as the city tries to move forward in trying times.

It's a struggle that visibly manifested itself over the past few months in an ever-growing, makeshift community of encampments dubbed "Tent City" just north of uptown and Interstate 277. There, more than 200 residents lived without basic necessities so many of us are fortunate to have — roofs, running water, electricity.

The cramped encampment served as a stark reminder of homelessness and the affordable housing crisis in Charlotte — a cluster of nylon shelters full of people just trying to make do in the shadow of a high-rise skyline beaming with opulence.

Tent City has prompted discussions for months: What can be done to help its residents? Was it a safe environment for them?

That all came to a head on Tuesday, when the county's health department ordered the encampment shut down due to a rodent infestation. Residents were told to clear out by Friday evening so the county could get a handle on the rats, which the health director said posed an "immediate health risk."

The suddenness of the order left many in Tent City wondering: Where do we go from here? Others were worried about another immediate health risk: COVID-19.

"I think (a shelter) is the most dangerous place you can go for the simple fact you've got hundreds of people going inside the shelter trying to find a bed, and you're all bunched up together," one Tent City resident told WFAE.

Initially, county officials guessed 150 people in Tent City would need housing, but that number quickly swelled. Officials worked to provide temporary housing to everyone affected. But the effort to manage the situation led to squabbling between county, city and law enforcement officials over which government entities were responsible for helping — and to what degree.

Tent City
Nick de la Canal
Just before 5 p.m. Friday, tents and other belongings remained on the land in the shadow of Interstate 277.

Cleanup began Saturday, with 214 residents in temporary housing. More than a dozen residents remained on the site after the Friday evening deadline, but the county said it was up to property owners to remove them. Those who were relocated are able to stay in hotel rooms for three months and have access to food and support services.

One thing is clear: The crisis is far from over, and there's a lot of work to be done.

"This effort was not designed to solve homelessness," Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said.

And it's a crisis WFAE will not ignore. We'll continue to report on homelessness and affordable housing challenges in our region.


Free Court Representation Program Helps Immigrants In Charlotte

Most immigrants who've fought deportation at the Charlotte Immigration Court over the last 20 years did so without a lawyer. But a pilot program has just started providing free immigration lawyers, and one of the first clients achieved legal status.

Charlotte Immigration Court plaque
Laura Brache/WFAE
Data from TRAC at Syracuse University shows that most of the immigrants fighting their deportation at the Charlotte Immigration court over the last 20 years did so without a lawyer.

Summer School Bill Sponsors Say It Provides Full Funding, Local Flexibility

Republican sponsors of a bill requiring all North Carolina school districts to offer summer school said Wednesday they’re providing flexibility and funding for the effort to offset pandemic learning loss.

Ex-Rep. Walker's Claim About Biden Raising Drug Prices 'Mostly False'

Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican, says he's running for U.S. Senate in 2022. Also in this week's Fact Check: We look at Democratic U.S. Rep. Alma Adams' claim that "almost 40% of borrowers with student loan debt didn't finish their degree."

Cawthorn Joins Firebrand GOP Colleagues On Far-Right Media

U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn of western North Carolina joins like-minded figures on the far-right fringe of the Republican Party, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, on the social media platform Telegram.

CMS High Schoolers Prepare To Return To Class After Months Of Distance

Next week Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school students will return to classrooms for the first time in almost a year. Over the past 11 months, they've found ways to cope with distance.

E Meck Body Banter students.jpg
Courtesy of Gloria Boykin
East Mecklenburg High students Gloria Boykin (left) and Lucy Smithwick posted sticky notes with encouraging messages around school before going remote.


Long-Standing Problems Exacerbated By Pandemic

For our series Rebuilding Charlotte, City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt talks with WFAE's Marshall Terry about the challenges ahead in the coming years — affordable housing, homelessness, jobs that pay living wages and public transportation.


North Carolina opened up a new category of eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine recently. In many ways the rollout of the vaccine has been swift. But as WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson says in his On My Mind commentary, it can’t come fast enough.


The scene at "Tent City" was a testament to the need for affordable housing. This isn’t a new problem, but the situation has brought new urgency to finding a solution — even as it was dismantled this week.


Sometime this year, when COVID-19 clears, the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience will open in New Orleans to document the long and sometimes difficult history of Jewish people living in the South. In the latest SouthBound, Tommy Tomlinson talks with Kenneth Hoffman, the museum’s executive director.

Kenneth Hoffman
Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano
Kenneth Hoffman is the executive director of the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience in New Orleans.

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Dash joined WFAE as a digital editor for news and engagement in 2019. Before that, he was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia, where he covered public safety and the military, among other topics. He also covered county government in Gaston County, North Carolina, for its local newspaper, the Gazette.