Letter: Asheville needs organized solutions for homeless situation

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I am quite familiar with the journalists’ reports that researched, interviewed and collaborated on the downtown crime, homelessness, etc. [See avl.mx/chu, avl.mx/chw and avl.mx/cht.]

They are completely accurate that this phenomenon is not just downtown and not only in Asheville. Living on Burton Street in a fantastic community near the Peace Garden in West Asheville, our corner is a major thoroughfare for car and homeless traffic. I believe — having retired from health care and social services — that there are many complex problems for many of these wayward, saddened and despondent humans.

In addition, there is a real “business” in panhandling in our city. The regular folk who stand at these spots with their cardboard signs negotiate with one another for “their” times on those corners. This is serious business for them, almost like punching a time clock.

So, my thought is that they have a sad life — yes — yet very effective customer base any given day, based upon the attention they give to the Interstate 240 ramp and Haywood Road plus the stoplight at Patton and Florida avenues into the historic Burton Street community in West Asheville. Everyone must be giving help in some form out of their car windows. Money? Food? Drugs? Clothes? I have seen it all.

Many times walking down Burton in front of our home, serious mental illness is observed — torn clothing, nudity, talking and screaming to themselves and twice lighting fires on the sidewalks in our residential area. What can you possibly say to this? The panhandlers have plenty of customers, and the seriously mentally ill are in crisis — more then I have ever seen in my 38 years in social work.

Also —an observation only — in the articles I have read over the last couple of years, the homeless agencies (and there are a lot of them ) rarely ever mention a community mental health system. This is a federal and often state mandate. I am not clear where Asheville/Buncombe County’s mental health system weighs in on this subject — my ignorance. Yet as a reader, there is rarely a mention of the community mental health leaders. I also didn’t notice if they were interviewed or attended the last big business meeting.

Surely, they are at least being invited to meetings. The police cannot, nor can the emergency medical services system, take care of these truly sad and harmed street people. It is my understanding from a neighbor EMT that they take them to Mission Hospital to be triaged. Really? Many communities have crisis stabilization units, specifically licensed to treat. Often in other states, these are located and managed by the community mental health system.

And lastly, it is blatantly obvious to me that there are many homeless advocates and agencies in such a small city, yet rarely do I read about collaboration and true problem-solving for the social issues among these agencies. This is hard for me to believe, yet the first recommendation from the most recent homeless study done for the city/county was the lack of collaboration [From Asheville Watchdog: National Consultant Offers ‘Road Map’ to End Homelessness in Asheville … Again,” Feb. 8, Xpress website]. Are there differing agendas or a fractured approach to services that can sometimes only follow the grant requirements given to an agency?

Sorry to be long-winded, but I do think Asheville has a unique situation — a need for centralized, organized solutions to help these folks.

— Vikki Dibble


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9 thoughts on “Letter: Asheville needs organized solutions for homeless situation

  1. Grant Millin

    I have asked where Vaya Health is in all this. People think Sunrise Recovery and Wellness is the avant-grade. So, is Vaya Health totally failing? Btw, I don’t think avant-grade and success are the same.

  2. Robert McGee

    Good letter. I’ve been thinking a lot about collaboration/synergy and harnessing all the collective energy in a more positive and efficient way. I suggest you listen to Chief Zack’s recent 2-part interview on The Overlook podcast with Matt Peiken. It’s crystal clear that non-profits, residents, business owners, elected officials and even the unhoused must be better partners to help get our city back on track.

  3. Mike Rains

    1) The City should expand the panhandling ordinance to include the entire city (all intersections). Currently only downtown and Biltmore Village are on the prohibited list. Intersting, isn’t it? The City Attorney rules that panhandling can’t be made illegal. It can be made illegal if public safety is involved.
    2) The drugs are what are magnifying this problem. Anyone caught shooting up or in possession of illegal amounts of serious drugs (not pot) should be arrested and jailed. If the County Jail is concerned (I’m certain they are) about withdrawal issues with these people, we need to spend the money to have a medically supervised drug withdrawl unit at the jail. Come on County Commissioners, pony up! Oh right, mainly Asheville has to put up with the negative consequences.
    3) We can’t continue to enable this behaviour. No needle exchange, no open use of drugs, people shouldl be arrested for throwing a used needles on the ground.
    4) None of these people are going to get better until they get clean. You can put them in the Grand Bohemian Hotel and it won’t matter. And frankly, I don’t really care about their history or issues. The fact is, they are exhibiting life threatening and societal harming behaviors. Any rationale (and truly
    compassionate) adult society would firmly say NO to that. What is our problem?

    • Kamella

      I am afraid your responses are exactly the misinformed responses that continue to increase this problem. Please take the time to research the entire topic thoroughly. You will be a different person for knowing the whole truth.

      • Mike Rains

        I have researched this. I think I know the reality. Some things can’t be fixed. For those that are willing to meet half way, fine. But others that aren’t willing need tough love. I’m not at all suggesting a one size fits all approach to this multi-faceted issue. But people that lump all of this into “homelessness” are not being truthful. There area number of nuances that need to be addressed differently.

    • kw

      And there should also be a follow-up story about the Florida tourists who OD’ed on felonious drugs at the Grove Park Inn and drained our infrastructure. Why the secrecy and cover-up?

      • Mike Rains

        The coverup was petty obvious for anyone reading between the lines. The “tourists” were firefighters from Florida. The first responders were Asheville firefighters and they essentailly protected “some of their own”. The police came later and were stymied in investigtation. But I’m sure the real push came from the Grove Park Inn. This type of publicity couldn’t be tolerated. Phone calls were made (no emails) to various “higher ups” to make this thing go away.

        So yes, frustratingly hypocritical and downright wrong. Hard drug use in this country is epidemic and at all levels in our society. If we don’t start saying NO to this in some very concrete ways, it will be the end of us.

    • gapple

      Your number 4 makes me think of slavery reparations that are being demanded. First in SFO it was $350K, then $5M and now the blmers are complaining that $5M is too low. We continue to enable bad behavior because we don’t want to hurt their feelings.

  4. Taxpayer

    It’s interesting to consider that the people that are in the homeless “business” would be out of business (and millions and millions of dollars) if they actually succeeded in getting people off the streets. The paycheck for CEO’s and Directors of large nonprofit organizations is pretty sweet.

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