Asheville changes course on hotels for homeless

Asheville city seal

After more than a dozen commenters urged Asheville City Council on April 14 to protect homeless residents from COVID-19 by sheltering them in vacant hotels, city officials could approve plans to do just that. On the consent agenda for Council’s meeting of Tuesday, May 12, is a proposal to shelter up to 60 people at the Red Roof Inn on Crowell Road in West Asheville.

According to a staff report available before the meeting, the hotel rooms would replace the city’s emergency group shelter at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville, which has a capacity of 50 and currently houses 32. Each room will cost the city $44.99 plus tax per night, and Johnson City, Tenn.-based Axis Security will provide supervision at a total cost of $289,000, a $200,000 increase from its previous contract for services at the civic center. The city expects those expenses to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The plan represents a major change in the city’s thoughts about assisting people who are experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. During Council’s April 14 meeting, Assistant City Manager Cathy Ball said early discussions had flagged “significant issues” with a hotel-based approach.

“Being able to monitor and check medical stats and temperature and things like that when people were in hotel rooms became very problematic,” Ball explained. “It was also problematic to be able to monitor to make sure that people weren’t gathering in those rooms in significant numbers.”

The staff report does not directly address those concerns but notes that “noncongregate shelter settings in motels” have been identified as a countrywide best practice. “The availability of FEMA reimbursement specifically for noncongregate COVID-19 emergency motel homeless shelters now make such options more feasible,” the report adds.

In other news

With the agenda’s three public hearings expected to be postponed until Tuesday, May 26, Council’s only item of new business is a potential amendment to the city firearms ordinance. As requested by Christopher Arbor, a teacher at the Asheville School, the change would allow bowhunting of deer on private property within city limits. Arbor says the school needs to curb its deer population to protect students from Lyme disease and preserve forestry efforts.

A staff report discussing the amendment notes that hunting would be allowed only “under very limited circumstances.” Deer could be killed only during the regular hunting season, on properties of 20 acres or more, with arrows fired from elevated platforms and at least 250 feet from any street or occupied area.

The city last addressed the issue in May 2018, when farmers Steve Beltram and Becca Nestler, who operate Balsam Gardens in West Asheville, asked Council for permission to hunt deer that were destroying their crops. Council member Brian Haynes shot down that proposal, claiming that, “being a vegan, it’s really hard for me to come out in support of this.”

Consent agenda and public comment

Council’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 12 items in total, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following:

  • Approve a nearly $1.39 million contract with Boston-based CDM Smith for upgrades to the Mills River Water Treatment Plant. Work will include replacing chemical storage tanks, expanding water storage and improving filter controls.
  • Allow City Manager Debra Campbell to defer additional fees and charges “to address harms caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Asheville is currently forgoing roughly $677,000 per month in fee revenue, including $215,000 in parking garage payments and $200,000 in transit fares.
  • Allocate $500,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds to install safety protection barriers in 27 city buses. The barriers would “protect [Asheville Rides Transit] drivers from assault and in emergency situations such as COVID-19.”
  • Increase a contract with Tampa-based Restocon Corp. for repairing the Civic Center Parking Garage center stairwell by over $120,000. Structural analysis conducted in February found “significant deterioration in the overall condition” that required the entire stairwell to be replaced. The project is expected to be completed by late summer.

Asheville City Council will meet remotely at 5 p.m. The meeting will be livestreamed online; members of the public can also listen to the proceedings by phone at 855-925-2801 with meeting code 8659. The full agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

Public comment for the main meeting can be submitted via voicemail up to 5 p.m. on Monday, May 11, by calling the city at 855-925-2801 with meeting code 8659. All voicemail comments are limited to three minutes per agenda item and will be played during the meeting in the order received. Email comments may also be submitted at AshevilleCityCouncilMay122020@publicinput.com.

A remote budget work session is scheduled for the same day at 3 p.m. This work session will also be livestreamed online. Phone access is available at 855-925-2801 with meeting code 8658. As is true for all city work sessions, no public comment will be taken.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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4 thoughts on “Asheville changes course on hotels for homeless

  1. Brandon

    Brian Haynes not supporting the farmers’ request because HE is a Vegan seems a bit self-serving for a “representative” of his community.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      His agenda is self serving typically…he’s a loser. NO leadership skills whatsoever…NONE.

    • Lou

      Vegan sacrifice for the betterment of our planet, what do YOU do for the betterment of humanity?

      • bsummers

        Do you mean “Vegan sacrifice”, or “Vegans sacrifice”? Pretty heavy connotations in that difference…

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