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Asheville to dismantle homeless camps, despite CDC recommendations


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    ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — The city of Asheville is breaking with CDC guidance on homeless camps to prioritize public safety for people with and without homes. Assistant city manager Cathy Ball has maintained since January that the city would continue to align public health precautions outlined by the CDC unless tent cities posed significant safety concerns.

She said encampments in Martin Luther King Jr. Park and Aston Park have met that threshold and are deemed too unsafe to continue. Records from the Asheville Police Department show officers responded to 10 calls at the Martin Luther King Jr. Park and 14 calls for service at Aston Park since March 1.

“There have been fights that have been filmed and followed up on by the Asheville Police Department. There have been sanitation issues that are of concern. There have been threats,” Ball said, adding that reports of firearms at MLK Park also created concern.

In January, nonprofit BeLoved Asheville campaigned for the city to follow CDC guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The guidance breaks down into three main points:

Allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are if an individual housing option is unavailable.
Encourage distance between tents/sleeping quarters to mitigate the health risks.
Foster proper sanitation by keeping public restrooms open and well stocked with soap OR offer portable latrine with hand sanitizer.

The public restrooms at Martin Luther King Jr. Park and Aston Park remain locked. A portable toilet was recently installed at Aston Park.

Downtown Asheville resident Lois Smith said she is sympathetic to the people she thinks are getting lost in the shuffle.

“So, where are they going to go? Where are they going to get shelter? Even if they had blankets, they’re going to be soaking wet. Where are they going to go?” Smith said.

Point-in-Time Count data provides a snapshot of the city’s homeless population. On any given night in Asheville, more than 500 people will find themselves living on the streets, based on data from the last three years.

A statement from city officials said they’re working with Homeward Bound to connect people’s services, temporary shelter with the ultimate goal of providing housing.

Ball acknowledged the absence of an immediate solution for Asheville’s housing crisis, saying, “Everybody wants a solution. This is a very hard problem, and we did not get here overnight.”

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