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Resource center aids homeless even as advocate warns of ‘sweep’

City did not initially confirm or deny the claim of an upcoming sweep


This story has been updated to reflect new comments from the city denying a clearing Monday. 

Nearly a month after the Day Resource Center opened on South King Street, people experiencing homelessness say the center has so far lived up to its promises of streamlining resources to the unhoused community. 

“They can help you find a job, find housing, do laundry, wash, feed us, let us charge up our phone,” Saquida Underwood, a homeless woman, said Friday at the center. 

The resource center, a $7 million investment by the city of Fayetteville with funding from state and federal grants, provides unhoused people with meals, support services, and a place to shower and do laundry. Staff at the center have been processing unhoused individuals to get them into shelters with available space, according to CityView sources. 

Of the six people a CityView reporter spoke to there Friday, each said the center has helped the unhoused community in some way.

They also said they feel safe there. 

“They help out a lot,” Underwood said of the center’s staff. “We love them — they (are) family.

“This is our family,”  she told a small group standing in the parking lot and walking toward the center. 

The only criticism Underwood had was the lack of beds. But she said that resource staff had been helping people find housing and employment. 

Nelson Montanez, with whom CityView first spoke at a demonstration outside the center before its opening, said his own situation had improved dramatically since the center opened. He said he is now staying at a friend’s house, and he's gotten support at the center.

“Everything’s been great so far since they’re over (here),” Montanez said. “It’s been helpful — very helpful.”

Dan, an unhoused man from Champaign, Illinois, said he got stuck in Fayetteville after his bus was late on Thursday evening. He had to sleep on the street but said resource center staff should be able to get him into a shelter for the night. 

“This is a lovely operation that they're doing,” Dan said. “They didn’t leave you on the street; they actually helped you.” 

Some homeless community organizers, though, have continued to be critical of the city’s approach to handling the homeless community. 

Bryan Mellow, who spoke publicly at the Fayetteville City Council meeting Sept. 11 and criticized the city’s treatment of the unhoused community — reiterated his concerns Friday in the lobby of the resource center. Mellow has advocated for the homeless community here and says he knows personally everyone "on the streets." 

Mellow acknowledged that staff at the center are “doing the best they can,” but he said funding is still a problem. He believes the resource center and nonprofit organizations are still not getting the financial support to handle the 450 unhoused people who need help and that city leaders remain oblivious to the day-to-day operations of the center. 

“Yes, they help, but the city is (treating them wrong),” Mellow said of the center. “We're not getting the funding, and I'm already calling out City Council members.”   

After hearing Mellow’s complaints at the Sept. 11 meeting, Mayor Mitch Colvin responded — saying the center is a “step in the right direction” and it is a “misstatement to say we don’t care.”

Law enforcement concerns

At the same time, some unhoused people say police officers have continued to be unhelpful. Mallow says a 10-person encampment in front of the Cumberland County Public Library downtown will be cleared out Monday. 

“The people that are over there in front of the library, they're going to have to leave or go to jail,” Mallow said Friday. 

Mallow had suggested that law enforcement would be involved in the clearing. He said the people were going to have to leave because the group staying there were disrespecting the city’s rules — which he passed on to them — for enforcing the “no camping” ordinance, making the camp a public health risk. 

“No drinking, no drugs, no using the bathroom over there, and keep your trash up,” Mallow said. “That's the four things they asked. They couldn't do that, so they got to make them leave." 

City officials did not initially confirm or deny the sweep claims; in a statement Saturday, Loren Bymer, the marketing and communications director, said: 

“We are constantly assessing areas throughout the city to keep all of our residents safe, those who have shelter and unsheltered. We will continue to engage and assess the area near the Cumberland County headquarters building to ensure everyone is following city ordinances and ensure it does not become a high-risk environment for anyone.” 

However, Bymer sent a text message to CityView Sunday, saying that a clearing would not take place Monday.  The message was sent Sunday afternoon, after the story was published early Saturday evening with the statement first offered above. 

On Friday, Dan said the Fayetteville Police Department was unhelpful when he was trying to find transportation to the resource center Thursday, where he was told he could get help finding a place to sleep.  

“The police station (officer) say, 'Go to the sheriff,'” Dan said. “I told him, ‘I don't know where I'm going. I just got here.’”

Eventually, another unhoused person went with him to the police station so he could get a background check — something Dan said the officer had not told him before he needed to do. But it was too late by then for him to get transported to the resource center or shelter to get a bed. 

“I would have got in quicker, but (the police) just leave you on the street, run the background check and then you’re on the street. Then, anything can happen to (you).”   

Impact reduction program

Monday’s potential clearing comes after the city recently revealed the results of its homeless encampment Impact Reduction Program, which was established last fall in conjunction with the city’s encampment ban. After an assessment phase, the program was redeployed in May with a “renewed focus on maximizing effectiveness and ensuring alignment with the community's evolving needs,” according to a report presented to the City Council on Sept. 5.  

In total, IRP has evacuated 35 people from high-risk encampments. Of those, 18 have transitioned to permanent housing, the report states. The IRP’s budget has a budget of $215,000. 

Chris Cauley, director of the city’s Economic and Community Development Department, said the ordinance has not been regularly enforced.  

“The idea was to not enforce the ordinance unless that was the last straw,” Cauley told the City Council on Sept. 5. 

He said the city aims to get people to leave camps voluntarily because their encampment poses a health and safety risk, in which case the city mandates the ordinance be enforced. 

Cauley said the city is continuing to manage “high risk” encampments now and communicating regularly with city management. There are six of these encampments as of the report’s release. 

To read the report, follow this link

Evey Weisblat can be contacted at ewiesblat@cityviewnc.com.

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Fayetteville, homeless, unhoused, housing, day resource center, city