On Thursday morning, county officials made themselves available to the media for the first time since issuing an imminent hazard abatement that will evict residents living in an encampment on 12th Street known as Tent City. During the press conference, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio confirmed that local law enforcement agencies have refused to work with the county to enforce the order and claimed Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones had reneged on an offer to help transport residents to a hotel shelter before Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
Despite the multiple disagreements and conflicting claims between county and city departments, Diorio said the county has signed up more than 180 people to move from Tent City to the hotel shelter, though some residents Queen City Nerve spoke with on Thursday said they are doing so reluctantly.
“We’re not seeing pushback from the residents out there,” Dioro said on Thursday. “We’re actually seeing people who are very, very interested in coming inside, and that is really the good news in this part of this process is that we have people that want to come inside.”
One woman we spoke to on Thursday afternoon painted a different picture than Diorio had during the press conference, saying she only signed up due to a lack of other options, but felt the restrictions implemented on residents there would be “a lot like jail.”
People who move into the shelter are made to sign a contract agreeing to regulations similar to those that apply to most of the shelters the run by the county’s partner organizations, including that they only bring two bags of belongings and participate in a daily check-in.
The woman has lived in a tent near the light rail line since September, and Thursday it was filled with far too many belongings to fit into the two bins she had just picked up at Roof Above’s nearby Day Services Center.
“How am I supposed to put my life in these bins?” she asked, seemingly overwhelmed.
Thursday’s transition moved slowly, as county employees worked to get four people on a bus at a time, to be joined by a case worker and a bus driver, then driven to the shelter. Residents who signed up on Wednesday went to the Day Services Center on Thursday to check in and receive a slip that confirmed their spot on a bus.
One man Queen City Nerve spoke to had just received his slip and was waiting with his two suitcases as he watched people board buses down the street. He said he hadn’t stayed at Tent City much, as he preferred to sleep near the Uptown library most nights, but figured he would give the hotel a try when he heard it was being offered. He said he had no problems with the restrictions at the shelter, he just didn’t want to sleep in the cold anymore.
Another man built a fire nearby by pouring lighter fluid onto a wooden palette while he waited his turn to board a bus. He said he had signed up for a spot at the hotel shelter, though he hadn’t received his slip yet, and would wait to see what life was like there before passing judgment.
Thursday’s move was not supposed to take place four people at a time, but according to Diorio, an agreement with the city manager to provide mass transportation fell through at the last minute.
Diorio said she contacted Marcus Jones on Tuesday and asked that the city provide buses, to which he agreed, then on Wednesday she found out that the city would provide CATS buses but no drivers. The Charlotte Fire Department originally agreed to drive the buses, but asked that the county provide security, which they could not do because the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office has refused to participate in the process.
“So if you see Mecklenburg County employees in small buses transporting four people at a time to the hotels, which is neither efficient nor compassionate, you will know why,” Diorio said during Thursday’s press conference.
Shortly after the press conference, the city of Charlotte released a statement contradicting Diorio’s claims, stating the county informed the city on Wednesday that they no longer needed help with 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 [sic],” the statement read. “The City never refused to help and we did not back away from our commitment to provide transportation.”
The statement also confirmed Diorio’s claims that CMPD is refusing to clear the camp of any residents who refuse to leave by the 5 p.m. deadline on Friday, as reported by Queen City Nerve on Wednesday.
“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 statement read. “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.”
During the press conference on Thursday, Diorio emphasized that it is her hope everyone currently living in the seven lots named in Tuesday’s order will leave voluntarily. Diorio said that, regardless of who enforces the clearing of the camp on Friday if needed, it will not be the goal of the county to criminalize anyone remaining on the property by making arrests, but only to clear them from the property so it can be eradicated of its rat infestation.
Queen City Nerve will continue to cover this story as it develops.
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