CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Benjamin Blake has lived at what is known as “Tent City” in Charlotte’s North End for nearly a year.
On Tuesday, Mecklenburg County issued an abatement order, giving the residents in that area 72 hours to vacate the premises, citing a growing rat infestation.
With tents pitched and fires being burned, “Tent City” is hone to hundreds of people like Blake, and his fiancé Key.
Blake told WBTV he has spent many other years in and out of a permanent home. Key hasn’t had a permanent home in seven years and he’s been dealing with grief after losing multiple family members too.
They’re getting married in April, and they have hopes of getting back to work and finding more permanent housing for both of them.
Now, after the county is forcing them out, they are looking for a new place to shack up.
But in two days they’re starting over with the help of the county.
“Now I don’t have to pray about burning clothes at night or figuring out how to stay warm at night or keep my girl warm at night,” Blake said.
The county estimates there are now 150 people living in “Tent City”
County leaders and community partners are assisting in helping to find shelter for those in need in “Tent City.”
Emergency shelters have made space for nearly 50 individuals already who had reported living in the encampment, with dozens more men accessing Roof Above’s winter shelter each night.
The county is working with community partners to expand existing shelter capacity through an additional shelter hotel. This shelter hotel is only for people living in the North End Encampment area and will be open for 90 days, during which time, staff will work with each individual to find another housing resource.
County staff and community partners are working on-site to help residents know their options for shelter and other resources including access to mental health and substance use services, housing navigation and case management.
Officials say transportation, meals, laundry and security services will be provided as well.
COVID-19 testing will be provided as the individuals leave the encampment site and vaccines will be offered to all aged 65 and up.
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Leigh Altman says they have 80 beds available and are working to expand existing shelter capacity but assures running out won’t be an issue.
“I feel confident that our county manager would acquire additional hotel beds,” Altman said.
Altman makes it clear they’re not trying to force people out but help them while addressing the public health issue.
Grassroots organizations like Hope Vibes are also working to address immediate needs like luggage and moving and brainstorming with other organizations.
“Everybody doesn’t need to do the same thing. We can play on each other’s strengths to bring awareness to what the issues are, what the needs are, and then fill those needs together,” said Adrienne Threatt, with Hope Vibes.
According to the abatement order, Encampment residents must leave the area within 72 hours.
The county is leading this process with social service providers, not law enforcement. Law enforcement would be used only for the support of social workers.
Community partners working with us on this effort include: Roof Above, The Salvation Army, Block Love Charlotte, Hearts Beat as One, Hearts for the Invisible, Just Do It Movement and CATS.
Deborah Woolard, from Block Love CLT, says they are bringing suitcases and totes so people can start packing up.
With days before his big move, Blake feels confident that this time at the shelter can help him focus on other factors.
“It’ll give me time to get myself back into working and skills and stuff that I normally would do,” he said.
Now we still have some unanswered questions from the county: who will enforce this if people refuse to move?