Regarding the safety of downtown Asheville—I agree with those who assert that downtown has gotten less safe, both in actual crime events and in the vibe you get when walking downtown. To me, three keys to addressing this issue are:
1. The aggressive vagrants must go. I have compassion and empathy for those who want a chance to get back on their feet and, if needed, break the hold addictions have on their souls. I have little desire to give up my right to enjoy my home, and no willingness to sacrifice my family’s safety, to accommodate those who have chosen to destroy themselves and have no desire to change. We need to move from one night in jail for public drunkenness etc. to a choice meant to separate those who truly want help from those who don’t: One week in jail or enrollment in drug/alcohol treatment should be the choice given. Yes, I mean to drive off those who will not change and whose presence is lowering the quality of life for everyone else. We have that right as a community.
2. We should not allow our city to continue to devolve before we get serious about addressing our issues. We must balance commerce and growth with acceptable standards for the restaurants/bars we allow to operate downtown. We must give our leaders and police the support they need to hold these businesses accountable for the environments they foster to make a buck. For the second year in a row, after leaving the laid-back, friendly vibe of Jack of the Wood on New Year’s Eve, my wife and I had to walk through a sidewalk brawl down the street as we tried to make our way home. Do we accept an anything-goes bar environment, or do we work to preserve the laid-back, funky kind of vibe that has made Asheville such a cool place to live? Asheville can be weird and safe.
3. Most importantly, the individual has to be accountable. Each of us contributes to the environment we live in every day. Do we give our time/money to charities that help those who truly want a hand up (Habitat for Humanity, MANNA Food Bank etc.); or do we give money to the belligerent vagrant just to get away; or do we do nothing? Do we report crimes and help where we reasonably can? Do we hold our leaders and police to high expectations and support them when they try to make a difference? Sometimes, just a simple smile and taking a second to give directions—or to say excuse me if you accidentally bump into someone—makes a difference. Are you part of the problem, if only through inaction, or are you part of our diverse, fun and strange little community? And yes, that is a very good question for me to ask of myself every day. I hope you will, as well.
— Gary Eggers