I was myself homeless in July, constantly looking for spare rooms. Following a sudden housing loss, I moved a total of four times before finally returning to West Asheville, the site of a major ongoing zoning dispute. The city claims that the services that Steady Collective provides for 2.5 hours each week out of Firestorm [Books & Coffee] constitute a shelter.
But, in fact, Steady was responding to the proliferation of needle litter in West Asheville when they gained permission from the state to set up an exchange in 2016. As someone who led a racial justice group in Firestorm for 18 months with the syringe exchange immediately following my group, I call foul on the city for engaging in this aggressive, underhanded attempt to further gentrify West Asheville, which will most likely increase disease and even kill our neighbors, as they will no longer have access to clean needles, fentanyl test kits or overdose reversal kits.
Repeatedly, leaders in the black community would attend my group and call out the massive land grab in the Southside community, the vicious theft of The Block downtown, and the very many insidious ways the city has robbed the black community and left it increasingly traumatized, with scores of infants unnecessarily dead, an achievement gap that is through the roof, and an incarceration rate, jobless rate and life expectancy that is a stain on this town, the second-fastest gentrifying city in the nation.
I’ve met clients of Steady. Folks just want to live. Many are currently houseless. One kind man used to come into my former workplace and chat with me and my fellow baristas. Will he survive this? Knowing firsthand the stress of lacking stable housing and this town’s history of pushing people out, I ask [interim] City Manager Cathy Ball and Principal Planner Shannon Tuch to please remove these [zoning] violations.
— Matilda Bliss
Editor’s note: Xpress contacted the city with a summary of the letter writer’s points pertaining to city government, and spokesperson Polly McDaniel provided the following response: “As of Friday, Oct. 19, the Notices of Violation (NOV) remain in effect. The NOV is a tool to inform organizations of violations to the city’s development code. The process allows the recipients to either resolve the complaint or file an appeal within 30 days of the official notification. An appeal from Steady Collective was filed on Sept. 17, 2018, and is currently scheduled to be heard by the Board of Adjustment on Nov. 26.
“During the meeting, the board will decide whether or not the city was correct in its determination to issue the NOV. If the board denies the appeal, then the tenants will have to resolve the violation, or they will be issued a citation and begin accruing fines. If the board supports the appeal and sides with the appellants, then the NOV is then revoked.
“The city of Asheville values organizations providing services to the community. Staff are committed to helping organizations understand how to remain compliant in order to provide necessary services to the public.”