CHARLOTTE, N.C. — People living in one of Charlotte’s “tent cities” on the edge of uptown have four nights left before they’ll have to find somewhere else to go.
The land at West 12th Street and North Poplar Street is private property, but people started pitching their tents on it as the pandemic took off.
CMPD said the WB Moore Company gave notice to people living on the land on August 7 at 5 p.m. that they must clear out by August 14 at 5 p.m. The WB Moore Company has demolition scheduled to begin on that property on Aug. 17.
The WB Moore Company sent WCNC Charlotte the following statement:
“Site demolition and construction of a fenced employee parking surface and material staging area is about to begin on our private property. Our company has been in contact for over a year with many agencies and authorities about this development.
We are aware and are sensitive to the situation of those currently using our property. However, we are also operating our business with our employee’s needs in mind, working to meet our obligations to our customers and our clients and the operational necessity of our company’s business needs. Additionally, we have contractual obligations that our business is being held to regarding our construction project.
Additionally, we are taking all jobsite safety precautions necessary to protect anyone from getting hurt while this construction project is taking place. To that point, we provided written notice (again) to the individuals that they are trespassing, are on private property, and must leave this week. We did this to comply with law enforcement instructions to us that a 5-day written notice must be given.
We have been working with the City of Charlotte Code Enforcement Division for many months now to clean up the property before construction begins. Our company has also received several code & citations notices with potential fines incurred if the graffiti, mounds of trash, waste and the unsanitary conditions of the property are not addressed. In order to comply, the contractor we have engaged to haul away the waste and debris with his heavy equipment won’t enter the area until everyone has vacated the premises due to safety concerns.
We have also reached out to Roof Above, formally the Urban Ministry Men’s Center for their assistance in providing information about relocating the trespassers. They in turn have agreed to have representatives from their agency on site this week.”
Bruce Wade Vaughn Junior said he has been living at this property off and on since February.
"When the coronavirus came and certain places started to give out tents and sleeping bags and tarps and stuff, we were probably accommodating putting up about 15, 20 tents a day,” Vaughn said.
He was given the notice to vacate last Friday, but he said there aren’t many options to go somewhere else.
"You can't put it on that side cause there's a highway,” Vaughn said. “You're going to put them back, 150 people back in a confined space, which is unsafe, unfair, and we've got a right to be safe."
Since the pandemic began, more and more tent encampments became visible in the Charlotte area. The tents are a way for people to distance themselves from others amid the pandemic as shelters are at capacity.
CDC guidance in the pandemic discourages clearing encampments because it can cause people to disperse and increase the potential for infectious disease spread.
Roof Above is concentrating efforts at this encampment this week to try to help the residents find other options.
"We do want to try to triage and troubleshoot to figure out where are their alternatives,” said Randall Hitt, chief engagement officer for Roof Above. “Can we get them into shelter? Is there some other place that we can get them? Otherwise, the reality is that they disperse somewhere else."
Hitt said shelters were at capacity before the pandemic began, but they are probably serving even more people with bed space thanks to partnerships with the county for hotel space.
However, it is still a lottery system to get in with more people than beds every night. For more information, those in need can reach out to Roof Above, Charlotte's men shelter Salvation Army Center of Hope or Mecklenburg County Homeless Services.
Tent cities have always existed in Charlotte, Hitt said, but they weren’t as visible. He said the pandemic has only further highlighted the need for affordable housing and resources to help people get on the path to attaining housing.
"These are challenges that this community has faced for a long time,” HItt said. “It's just not been as visible."