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City’s homeless camp grows, little relief in sight from freezing conditions

<i>WLOS</i><br/>In the past two weeks
In the past two weeks

By John Le

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — As cold conditions continue in Asheville, so does the Code Purple for upcoming nights where temperatures are expected to reach below freezing. But for those at a homeless camp behind Haywood Street Congregation, the declaration provides little relief.

In the past two weeks, dozens of tents have popped up on NCDOT property.

“It’s cold, it would help to have a place,” said Justin, who was among those at the homeless camp.

Shelter is not an option for Justin and other homeless men and women, who feel the frigid conditions in their bones.

“These last few nights have been cold. Can’t sleep much,” he said. “It’d be nice if we could have a place to go inside.”

Unfortunately, COVID-19 and staffing issues have handcuffed many providers.

“We want to get people in, but we don’t have the ability to do it safely here,” said, Micheal Woods, of Western Carolina Rescue Ministries.

“Our biggest issue is staffing. I don’t have the ability to safely do Code Purple in my building with our current staffing situation,” Woods said.

Laura Kirby, executive director at Haywood Street Congregation, said the people at the camp have nowhere to go.

“It’s terrible to know that people are sleeping outside and have nowhere to go,” Kirby said. “My understanding is that the DOT is working on plans to move those camps and those tents. But I think the challenge is that I don’t know where those folks will go.”

The city of Asheville said Homeward Bound was made aware of the camp last week, and it has been advised to offer services through its Street Team outreach, which is funded with taxpayer dollars. City officials said NCDOT was made aware of the camp but officials have not responded about how they wish to proceed.

Meanwhile, some are scrambling to find solutions. The Salvation Army has informed the city that the nonprofit will accept unvaccinated women into its facility.

“The city of Asheville said they were having difficulty in finding partners for Code Purple, especially those who are unvaccinated,” Major Phil Swyers said. “We are prepared to house unvaccinated women at The Salvation Army Center of Hope.”

But that doesn’t help folks like Chris, who have set up camp not far away.

“It’s very frustrating. It makes you lose hope. I try to get help, and it seems like there’s another brick wall,“ he said.

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