CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Mecklenburg County leaders said the health and safety conditions at the homeless encampment known as Tent City were dangerous and residents had to be moved out to address a growing rat infestation.
However, few answers have been given as to how residents will be moved out if they refuse and what enforcement of the new abatement order will look like.
During a Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Health Director Gibbie Harris said the abatement order is an option of last resort but that if she had her way they’d start moving people out within 24 hours.
“I’d love to give more time for the abatement for moving these individuals but to be perfectly honest, if I had my way, we would make a change in 24 hours,” Harris said. “It is just not safe for people to be living in this environment.”
Harris said her two major concerns in issuing the abatement order were the conditions for people living in Tent City and the possibility for rats to migrate to other communities.
Harris said that the rat infestation that has taken hold over the past week has only worsened and poses a risk of disease and infection.
But the plan for removing people has not been revealed.
While the county has made clear, along with its partners in addressing homelessness, that there are enough rooms in hotels and shelters available for the people living in Tent City, only 40 people have taken advantage of that opportunity.
The county estimates there are now 140 people living in Tent City.
A question from Commissioner Mark Jerrell about how the abatement order would be enforced was not answered by Harris, who said only that they wanted to remove people respectfully.
The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office was also not made aware of the order.
“MCSO has not been contacted by the Mecklenburg County Health Department regarding the abatement order nor requested to assist with the movement of any person or property at the Tent City encampment,” a spokesperson for MCSO wrote in an email to WBTV.
Deputy County Manager Anthony Trotman said that there was a meeting happening Tuesday night with shelter partners about next steps for the people living at Tent City.
All of the commissioners offered sympathy and understanding for the need for the abatement order, saying that the health conditions were untenable for the residents living there.
Commissioner George Dunlap was most poignant in his assessment of the situation.
“Sometimes you have to do things to help people that won’t help themselves,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap went on to say that people who donated food to Tent City without coordinating with organizations on the ground are partly to blame.
“Some of the people who would complain are the same problem who contributed to the problem,” Dunlap said. “And so the rats found a home as well. They were drawn to the food.”