Asheville homeless say police repeatedly wreck their campsites

Xavier Hooper

Journalist Student

xhooper@unca.edu

Homeless people in Asheville said they’re breaking the law by sleeping in public or on secluded campsites. 

“Yeah, my camp gets raided. It has a little stretch of leaves, and I barricade myself in there. I cover it in leaves so people don’t see it, but oftentimes the cops will come and trash it,” said Michael Cormier, an Asheville homeless man. 

Cormier said he sets up discreet campsites in the woods near Mission Health hospital but the police still take it down. Additionally, he frequently deals with the police Downtown for panhandling.

“They don’t want the homeless around. I guess it’s ‘cause I’m too close to the hospital. Even Downtown, they’ll get me for loitering; trespassing, I guess that’s what they call it. I call it surviving,” Cormier said.

Homeless camps get raided by the police constantly, according to Crow Smith, a homeless man who lives on the outskirts of Downtown Asheville.

“Homeless people here get their campsites raided all the time by the APD police. It depends on where you are, and how many times they’ve caught you or if you talk smart to them, anything like that,” Smith said.

The Asheville Police Department could not be reached for comment. 

According to Smith, he has yet to have his campsite raided, but will need to relocate soon anyway because the city will soon cut down the woods where his campsite is located.

“I haven’t had my place raided yet. I’ve got a campsite over by Grove Street, down by the park in the woods. But now they’re cutting the woods out to build something. It’s a constant move,” Smith said.

Polly Mcdaniel, communications specialist and spokesperson for the city of Asheville, said besides the APD, the City of Asheville addresses homelessness through funding to helpful organizations, but otherwise doesn’t directly address it. 

“Beyond APD, the City of Asheville is not a direct service provider for people experiencing homelessness. We are a supporting partner that distributes funding to helping organizations. As such, it’s not within our scope to directly address homeless camps,” McDaniel said.

Other city officials were unavailable for comment.

The Asheville municipal code defines “camp” or “camping” as sleeping or making preparation to sleep. It further states camping on public property is a crime. This includes the woods in certain parts of the city, as it is mostly city property. Tents, shelters, storage and camping on city property are not permitted. 

According to Asheville’s homeless, it is practically illegal for them to sleep anywhere outside in Asheville under this law.

“I’ve had my campsites raided many times. We used to be able to sleep on benches, campsites and we used to be able to sleep in doorways too. Now we just get kicked out,” said Layton Taylor, a homeless, middle-aged man who lives in Asheville.

Taylor said the reason for the stricter laws toward homeless people is because of the city’s rising affluence. 

“Just about a year or so ago it used to be better for homeless people out here. It’s because of tourism and all these rich people that don’t want the homeless in Asheville. I can’t help it, man. I lost my place about two years ago. I was living off of Annandale over there on Merrimon. I lived there for three years, rent got too high. I got kicked out and now I’m back out here,” Taylor said. 

According to Smith, it’s not just the police who boot the homeless, but shop owners too, specifically ones Downtown. 

“They have the right to tell me that I can’t walk through that parking lot, even if I’m not saying anything, even if I’m not panhandling. And they’ll ban you from their store. How can you tell me not to walk through that parking lot?” Smith said. 

The public’s treatment toward homeless people in Asheville is un-American, according to Smith. 

“Banning people for what reason? Because they have no money? Because they don’t look like they have any money? Is that American? No. It’s not against the law to be poor,” Smith said.

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