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City employs no-camping ordinance to clear ‘high-risk’ encampments under Fayetteville bridges


Two homeless encampments located beneath nearby bridges spanning the Cape Fear River have been cleared and the residents placed in temporary shelter under Fayetteville’s no-camping ordinance, the city of Fayetteville has confirmed. 

The encampments, on Person Street and Grove Street, were cleared by the city because they posed a “high risk” to public safety “based on the significant amount of trash in and around each bridge location,” Fayetteville’s Marketing and Communications Director Loren Bymer said in a statement on Feb. 15. 

Bymer said nine unhoused people were living under the bridges, but all are now temporarily sheltered. The city is providing food and funds for a 21-day hotel stay. The unhoused individuals have also been assigned case workers and given 30-day bus passes with support from local nonprofit organizations that provide resources for people experiencing homelessness.

“The engagement with these individuals has been ongoing for several weeks to ensure the case workers know what services are needed and desired,” Bymer said. “As we make it a practice to constantly evaluate areas throughout our city as there is an obligation to provide a safe and secure environment for all our residents. This area was determined to be high-risk in nature and as such, a plan was developed to make it safer.”

The N.C. Dept. of Transportation (NCDOT) began cleaning up the sites on Feb. 12, removing tons of trash and debris, after the city placed the people living there in temporary shelter. NCDOT has removed 19 tons of trash from under the bridges so far, NCDOT spokesperson Andrew Barksdale said, with the clean-up not yet complete.

“We rely on the city of Fayetteville and the police department to work with the homeless and relocate them before our contract crews are permitted to go to the bridges and begin the cleanup,” Barksdale said. “We partner with the city in this way, because the city has the expertise and resources, working with local agencies, to help the homeless who were living underneath these bridges.”

NCDOT expects to finish cleaning the Person Street Bridge on Friday, but the other bridges will take another few weeks to clean up, Barksdale said. 

The encampment was located under the bridge on both sides of the river.
The encampment was located under the bridge on both sides of the river.

State crews are also cleaning up trash from under another bridge on Cedar Creek Road exit 49 at Interstate 95, according to Barksdale. Bymer said the Cedar Creek bridge had “evidence there was a homeless encampment there at one time,” but the underpass “has not been occupied for an extended period of time.”

The land under the bridges is owned by NCDOT, but the city is in charge of clearing encampments under them, WRAL reported. Bymer said NCDOT will “retain control of the property” once it has been cleaned. The NCDOT is funding the clean-up. 

“This has been a combined effort between NCDOT, the City, and several nonprofit engagement and case worker persons to assist the unsheltered,” Bymer said. 

The clearings are the first major encampment sweeps to take place since last spring when the city cleared a large encampment at Gillespie Street underneath the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway. 

Amid the recent clearings comes Monday’s groundbreaking of Cumberland County’s homeless support center, a county shelter that will offer supportive services and temporary shelter to those experiencing homelessness. The Fayetteville City Council unanimously approved a special use permit for the center, located between B Street and Hawley Lane, on Jan. 8. 

Ongoing debate over no-camping ordinance

The city can conduct the clearings under its no-camping ordinance, which the Fayetteville City Council passed in 2022. The ordinance has generated controversy since its inception, with advocates believing it allows the criminalization of homelessness, while proponents argue it’s a necessary public safety measure. 

Stacey Buckner, whose organization Off-Road Outreach provides support services and resources to the local homeless community, said her team provided some of the 30-day bus passes to the individuals who were residing under the bridges. 

Buckner believes the recent clearings are a matter of enforcing public health measures. 

“I think part of the reason that the city started cleaning up those two particular encampments was because at this point, it was a health hazard,” Buckner told CityView. “There is a lot of waste out there. There's a lot of human waste out there, and there's just a lot of general trash.” 

Buckner emphasized the need to continuously follow up and offer resources to unhoused people after a clearing. 

“Once you remove those folks from the encampments, the key is the follow-up, the follow-through,” Buckner said. “What do you do? What's your wellness and recovery action plan during their stay that you're going to be giving them? There has to be the connection to the resources while they're in the hotel.”

The city places no trespassing signs like the one pictured when it clears encampments.
The city places no trespassing signs like the one pictured when it clears encampments.

Still, some advocates oppose the clearings on principle, describing them as unproductive and an affront on the rights of unhoused individuals. Trisha James, who has sponsored several initiatives to distribute resources to the homeless community through her organization Serving Hope, believes the clearings have a detrimental impact on the lives of people in the encampments. 

“I am completely devastated regarding the clearings that are taking place once again in the homeless communities,” James said in a message to CityView. “These clearings happen every year like clockwork. They seek to lure them away from their camps to destroy, trash and remove all of their belongings. For some, these things are all they have left.” 

According to the city’s legislation and several comments by city officials, Fayetteville’s ordinance says it’s “unlawful for any person to camp on public property” in Fayetteville: 

  • When overnight shelter space is available
  • When an encampment on “publicly-owned property within the city that is deemed a high risk to the public’s health and safety”

Members of the homeless community have said the ordinance’s enforcement has also been unclear and inconsistent, often not considering the particular exceptions in the ordinance. 

Speaking at a press conference held by the Homeless Assembly on Jan. 8, James Witherspoon, who is unhoused, said he has been forced to move locations by the police and city staff despite camping alone and keeping the area around his tent clean. He said he was not offered help to find shelter by officers and city staff who told him to move. Witherspoon questioned if the ordinance upholds civil rights. 

“You got federal statutes that say homeless people shouldn't be pushed around, they shouldn't be pushed off city property,” Witherspoon said during the press conference. “You got local statutes to say if this person is over here by themselves, they're not wild, they're not bothering anybody, they're not trashy, you should leave them alone. But I'm under both of these statutes and they just came, told me I have five days to move my stuff, break down my tent, move my stuff. So where am I going to go if I don't have anywhere to go?”

In September, a group of unhoused people who were staying near the Cumberland County Headquarters Library faced uncertainty after reportedly being threatened with a citation for violating the ordinance. The group claimed they were keeping their sleeping space clean, and the city acknowledged that it did not deem the encampment to be high-risk at the time. 

The group ended up moving a few blocks, an occurrence that unhoused people say they frequently face under the ordinance. 

Despite the day-to-day difficulties of people experiencing homelessness, Buckner has a positive outlook on recent community efforts to help the hundreds of people experiencing homelessness in Fayetteville. When she first started homeless outreach in 2015, Buckner said there was “a lot of complacency in moving forward with services for our unsheltered community.” 

Now, almost a decade later, Buckner said there seems to be a concerted effort from local elected officials, pointing specifically to Cumberland County Commissioner Vice Chair Dr. Toni Stewart — who spearheaded the homeless support center — and “a lot of other true advocates” to support new programs and initiatives for the local homeless community. 

“I think that people are finally listening,” Buckner said. “The movers and shakers in the community, they're finally listening, like, ‘Hey, I think these folks might know something,’ because we are boots on the ground. We see the need. So that's great to see the city and the county moving in the right direction and working collaboratively.”

Contact Evey Weisblat at eweisblat@cityviewnc.com or 216-527-3608. 

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homeless, encampment, Person Street, homelessness, unhoused, no-camping ordinance