Mecklenburg County leaders at odds with City of Charlotte, law enforcement as ‘Tent City’ residents pushed out due to rat infestation

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – Mecklenburg County and City of Charlotte leaders are going back and forth, essentially pointing fingers, over moving people from “Tent City” to temporary hotels and shelters by Friday evening due to a rat infestation.

On Thursday, Mecklenburg County leaders expressed frustration with the City of Charlotte and law enforcement, as the clock continues to tick down for “Tent City” residents to move out.

County Manager Dena Diorio said the City of Charlotte failed to provide the CATS transportation they had promised to help move residents to temporary hotels and shelters.

Diorio said that the Charlotte City Manager, Marcus Jones, made assurances that CATS buses could be used to help move residents, but later clarified, saying they could provide buses but not drivers. The Charlotte Fire Department told the County that firefighters could drive the CATS buses, but that they would require security.

Diorio said Charlotte Fire said CMPD and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office could not provide security, and that the county would have to provide it, which Diorio said they couldn’t do.

Due to the lack of security for firefighters who would have been operating the CATS buses, the responsibility of transportation has now reportedly fallen upon Mecklenburg County officials. Diorio said the county does not share the same security concerns and county employees are transporting encampment residents to temporary hotels and shelters Thursday and Friday.

The county manager also said that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office have refused to enforce the eviction when the clock strikes 5 p.m. on Friday.

The City of Charlotte released a statement on Thursday morning, stating they were given little notice of the County’s abatement order and “never refused to help and did not back away from its commitment to provide transportation.” Below is the City of Charlotte’s full response:

“Like many stakeholders, the City of Charlotte was given little notice of the County’s abatement order. On Wednesday, we committed to supporting the County and were asked to help by providing transportation. We had committed to providing busses to help transport the residents of the encampment to hotels and shelters. The County was aware of that commitment on Wednesday and we were discussing with them the logistics and their needs. As of Wednesday night, we were trying to determine how to best meet the transportation needs and the County informed us they no longer needed our support for transportation. We never said we would not support the County but were asking for critical details to understand the scope of their need and the County was unable to provide those details and it was the County who withdrew their request for busses. The City never refused to help and we did not back away from our commitment to provide transportation.

We have asked the County how they intend to address people who refuse to leave the encampments and they have yet to provide any solution to that outside of asking law enforcement to physically remove those individuals. The people in the encampments are not criminals and we do not believe they should be treated as such. CMPD is working with community and advocacy groups to identify other resources for people who remain on the site after 5 p.m. Friday.

This is a serious issue and one we have been working on with the County. To be clear, Mecklenburg County is the lead agency for homeless and social services in our community. Since 2018, the City has provided more than $35 million to support efforts to end and prevent homelessness.

Since the County issued its abatement order on Tuesday, the City has been working to determine how to best satisfy the abatement order, while also respecting the people impacted. As a property owner, we have committed to the County that we will clean the site once they have relocated the individuals, as the County committed to doing. 

We have and will continue to work with the County and other stakeholders to address this difficult issue.

Below are some recent actions taken by the City of Charlotte to address the homelessness in our community:

  • Overall, since 2018, the City has provided $35,876,719 to support efforts to end and prevent homelessness.
  • At the very beginning of the pandemic, the City seeded $1 million to the COVID-19 Response Fund administered by United Way and Foundation for the Carolinas. This helped to successfully raise over $16 million in community funds to provide assistance to residents during the pandemic, including assisting with shelter and housing needs.
  • In April 2020, the City provided $1,388,000 for 120 extended-stay rooms and prepared food for individuals and households experiencing homelessness, as well as $1,225,000 for security, utility and first month’s rent deposits to help individuals and families that are transitioning out of homelessness find permanent housing. The City also provided $2,228,000 to establish a rent and mortgage relief program to help people at risk of homelessness avoid evictions and foreclosures. This support includes helping households residing in hotels pay their rent.
  • Also, in April 2020, the City awarded $800,000 to the Statesville Avenue Shelter to expand its facility.
  • In June 2020, the City approved another $2 million to Roof Above to provide additional supportive housing through their acquisition of a hotel in order to prevent homelessness associated with the pandemic, and to further achieve the recommended six feet of social distancing in homeless shelters. At the same time, we provided another $8 million for rent and mortgage relief to help keep people in their homes, including those residing in hotels.
  • In August 2020, the City approved the recommendation of the Housing Task Force to provide $3.4 million for rapid rehousing and supportive services to serve individuals and families experiencing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness, and individuals and families unstably housed in hotels. These City funds leveraged $1,020,000 recommended by Mecklenburg County Continuum of Care.
  • In October 2020, the City approved $500,000 to help the Salvation Army Center of Hope expand their facility to help house additional women and children. We also approved $3,500,000 for utility assistance and an additional $6,000,000 for rent and mortgage relief to help keep people at risk of homelessness in their homes.”

Mayor Vi Lyles tweeted out a short statement with a link to the city’s full statement around 5 p.m., saying that homelessness is a complex issue that they city will continue to work on.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Gary McFadden echoed the City of Charlotte’s response, saying that he declined to help due to limited details and logistics from the county.

Sheriff McFadden’s full statement:

Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, I have always assisted Mecklenburg County when called upon with a clear and concise plan of action. Every Monday and Wednesday I am on a policy call with all city and county officials, an opportune time to discuss any protocols or concerns, however, logistics on the removal of persons or property from the North End Encampment have never been mentioned.

On Tuesday, February 16, 2021, I received a call from Charlotte Fire Department officials stating that
CATS would be providing 10 buses to transport persons from the encampment and I was asked if
deputies from the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office would drive the buses. Due to limited details and logistics, I declined. Wednesday evening, I received another call asking to provide security, again, with limited details and logistics, I declined to involve the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office.

I have been contacted regarding the encampment by more grass-roots organizations and provided more details about the removal process from those organizations than any elected official.

As Sheriff, I am always willing to assist and support, when a thorough plan of action is presented. In
October 2020, Mecklenburg County Public Health issued an Abatement of Imminent Hazard Order for United House of Prayer. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office was contacted, the order was
thoroughly discussed, and MCSO assisted as well as provided a daily detailed report to Mecklenburg
County Public Health.

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office remains committed to the citizens of Mecklenburg County.

The Charlotte Fire Department released a statement on Thursday afternoon, stating “At no point did CFD indicate that security from a particular law enforcement agency would not suffice, only that security must be present, as has been the standard protocol. Our offer to assist was never withdrawn.” Read CFD’s full statement below:

“The Charlotte Fire Department (CFD) is called to serve all people by minimizing the risk to life and is committed to doing so while also ensuring the safety of our personnel.  CFD received little notice of Mecklenburg County’s plan to issue an abatement order in response to the conditions at the North End Encampment, but has been willing to work with the county to determine the best course of action. A formal request for firefighters to provide transportation was made late Wednesday evening and through the course of those discussions, it was made clear that should CFD provide personnel to assist that security be present.

This has been standard practice on all similar missions that CFD has fulfilled at the request of the county. At no point did CFD indicate that security from a particular law enforcement agency would not suffice, only that security must be present, as has been the standard protocol. Our offer to assist was never withdrawn and as of Thursday morning, CFD had a plan in place to provide assistance, if the security element was addressed. The county withdrew their request for transportation and as the situation stands, CFD continues to be willing and able to provide assistance.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings released a statement on Thursday stating, “This order is a civil order, and as such, the civil order does not allow for any criminal law enforcement responses at this time.” Read Chief Jennings full statement below:

“Mecklenburg County did not involve CMPD in any conversations about this Order of Abatement of Imminent Hazard that was issued by the county public health director on Feb. 16, 2021. This order is a civil order, and as such, the civil order does not allow for any criminal law enforcement responses at this time.  The order is enforceable against the property owners, only, not the guests staying in tents.  After Friday at 5:00 pm., CMPD will work with the County regarding enforcement of potential criminal violations of the abatement order. 

CMPD was in constant conversations with multiple partners including all of the property owners asking for as much notice as possible about any vacancy notification to work through this transition with those impacted individuals.

We agree this is a public health concern, however, this is not how this should be managed. CMPD is not going to criminalize homelessness. Over the years, CMPD officers have worked extensively with members of our homeless community to connect them with resources and support services. If any individuals remain after the county’s deadline, CMPD will assist those remaining to connect them with resources voluntarily.  CMPD will respond to any calls for service, including trespass calls from the property owners, as it normally would.”

Mecklenburg County Public Health announced on Tuesday that “Tent City” residents had until 5 p.m. on Friday to get out after a massive rat infestation was discovered.

The county says after receiving a complaint regarding the potential health issues back in mid-January, they began working to clean up the site. But they say over the last two weeks, conditions have worsened significantly, and the growing rodent infestation was identified late last week.

“Rodents may transmit disease to humans through direct contact as well as through exposure to a rodent’s feces or urine. The current living environment of the encampment is neither safe nor healthy,” the city said in a statement Wednesday.

According to the county, staff and community partners are working on-site to help the more than 180 residents of the encampment learn about their options for shelter.

Officials say shelters have made space for nearly 50 individuals, with dozens more men accessing Roof Above’s winter shelter each night.

They say they’re also working with community partners to expand capacity and have rented out their 6th Hotel, paid for with FEMA money, for Tent City residents.

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