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Homeless Residents Scramble For Shelter As City, County Spar Over Tent City Shutdown Roles

Many homeless have set up tents north of uptown Charlotte along the embankment leading to Interstate 277, property owned by NCDOT.
David Boraks
Many homeless have set up tents north of uptown Charlotte along the embankment leading to Interstate 277, property owned by NCDOT.

Mecklenburg County officials said they expect to move more than 200 people to shelters or hotel rooms by the time homeless camps near uptown Charlotte are shut down Friday, as city and county officials squabbled Thursday over the details of how to clear the land.

County officials had estimated that 150 people have been living in tents on private and public property just east of Interstate 277. But since Wednesday, more than 180 people have accepted offers of temporary shelter, County Manager Dena Diorio said in a news conference.

"It may be that there are people coming there that were not part of Tent City that heard about it, and that are now wanting to access this offer ... that's fine," she said.

The county originally said the offer of housing was for anyone living in encampments in the so-called Tent City, the community of homeless living in tents that has been outside uptown since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Diorio said the county is entering the names of any new people who have requested help into its database of homeless residents, and will "sort that out later."

"But at this point, our goal is get people off of that property and into housing or into a hotel," she said.

The county is providing temporary housing and other social services to homeless residents as it prepares to shut the camps Friday at 5 p.m. under a health department order that declared them unsafe. County health officials said they took the rare move because of a rat infestation in the area that presents an imminent threat to public health.

In a press conference Thursday morning, Diorio criticized city leaders, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office for not being more involved in the removal effort.

CMPD and the sheriff both said Wednesday that they won't help remove residents who don't leave by Friday's deadline.

Diorio said the city did not follow through on an offer of buses to help take people to shelters and hotels. The county is using its own vans and staff for the job.

Diorio said City Manager Marcus Jones agreed to provide 10 CATS buses, but without drivers. Later, the idea was to have Charlotte firefighters drive the buses. But they were concerned about security. Sheriff Garry McFadden said the fire department asked if his deputies could provide security on buses. But he declined.

In a statement Thursday, McFadden criticized the hurried nature of the arrangements for having "limited details and logistics." "As Sheriff, I am always willing to assist and support, when a thorough plan of action is presented," McFadden said.

Meanwhile, the question of whose responsibility it is to clear the land became contentious Thursday. After the Mecklenburg County news conference, the city of Charlotte issued a statement saying "the City of Charlotte was given little notice of the County's abatement order," and that the city has 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," the statement said.

Later, CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings posted a thread on Twitter in which he said that while the encampment was a public health concern, "this is not how this should be managed. CMPD is not going to criminalize homelessness."

He also said that CMPD would "work with the county regarding enforcement of potential criminal violations of the abatement order."

Copyright 2021 WFAE. To see more, visit WFAE.

Homeless Residents Scramble For Shelter As City, County Spar Over Tent City Shutdown Roles

David Boraks is a WFAE weekend host and a producer for "Charlotte Talks." He's a veteran Charlotte-area journalist who has worked part-time at WFAE since 2007 and for other outlets including and The Charlotte Observer.
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