AVL must put an end to abuse of Asheville’s growing and always changing homeless population by the Asheville Police Department, Department of Transportation and City Hall. Their collaborative bulldozer demolition of people’s only property and means of immediate survival (tents, sleeping bags, blankets, coats, hats, gloves) at the Lexington Avenue underpass (on a snowing Feb. 1, forecast to hit a 7-degree wind chill), could easily amount to manslaughter, loss of digits or limbs, and life-threatening illness. This was a deliberate act of municipal sadism carried out by identified individuals. If physical harm was by the grace averted, it remains an unconscionable assault on human dignity during a national emergency and housing crisis.
I have personally been unhoused in AVL for many months, twice, without a vehicle to shelter in. I did not have a substance abuse problem; I was not unemployed; I was not mentally ill (though my mental and physical health were strained by the way being houseless is treated as if it were a crime, and by the challenges of surviving outdoors in the city). I was simply unable to access housing in the town I work and live in, thanks to gentrification, enablement of slumlording, soaring rents and expectations of deposit plus first and commonly last month’s rent before moving in. I was lucky enough to find basement housing before the end of November, though it was far out of town and a long, dangerous bike commute. I did not have to live outside in December, January, February, March and April, when temperatures sicken and kill exposed people. Like I said, I got lucky.
Homelessness can happen to anyone; you may think you are above it, but a run of bad luck, a divorce, a wrongful firing/accusation/arrest, a layoff or pay cut, any number of mishaps, can change your situation and open your eyes. The people experiencing this housing crisis now are not stereotypes. They are not a kind of person for us to write off. Many are families with children. Many have jobs or multiple jobs, and don’t have substance abuse problems. As expensive as housing is, surviving houselessness is also expensive, enough to be prohibitive of saving enough to climb out of the situation.
The people who ordered this sadistic assault must be fired and those who carried out this action must be disciplined and taught to appeal against orders that are unconscionable, never to carry them out. As importantly, the overprivileged business owners and gentrifiers who demanded it with their callous complaints need to be held publicly accountable for their selfish disregard for human life.
— Corr de Joch
Editor’s note: Xpress contacted NCDOT and the city of Asheville with the letter writer’s points. We received the following response from David Uchiyama, NCDOT communications officer: “We are forming a working group with the city of Asheville to establish consistency in how we address homeless encampments. We will work with the city and other community partners to collaboratively develop a plan that follows CDC guidelines and protects everyone involved.”
Uchiyama also sent along a letter from NCDOT Chief Engineer Ronald L. Keeter Jr., which says in part: “I have directed all my division engineers not to take action related to people experiencing homelessness located in the right of way or under roadways unless and until it has been determined that there is an immediate safety risk to the public.” [See link to the full letter below.]
Xpress also received the following response from Polly McDaniel, communication specialist with the city of Asheville: “Regarding this encampment and all encampments in the city of Asheville: The city of Asheville is aligned with CDC guidance that advises that unsheltered populations be allowed to remain in place during the pandemic to help cut down on the transmission of COVID.
“The city also recognizes that addressing homelessness is a complex issue, and that many other municipalities are also experiencing an increase in encampments. For that reason, we are working on community-based solutions to mitigate homelessness.
“The city is working on a temporary use permitting procedure that could allow community- and faith-based organizations to provide low-barrier shelters in nonresidential areas, and that could include camping.”
The full NCDOT letter can be found here: 02-10-2021 Letter to Citizens Asheville Homeless Encampments