Asheville’s homeless population drastically rises


Jake Wilson

Homeless resident Patricia Beckford holding a sign for help.

Jake Wilson, [email protected], Sports Writer

Asheville’s unhoused population has seen a dramatic increase as a recent report from the city of Asheville shows the city and community are working to help improve this issue. 

“There’s nowhere to stay, there’s nowhere to live. I mean, we have only one homeless shelter and it’s full. You can’t stay out here, you can’t put a tent up anywhere or the police will knock it down or the other homeless people will steal it from you. There’s nowhere to be. You’re supposed to be flying a sign, you can’t do anything else. Everything is illegal and it kind of sucks,” said Patricia Beckford, a homeless resident of Asheville. 

Asheville city officials say homelessness rose by 21% in the past year. The number of unsheltered homeless individuals saw a huge increase of 256% since 2020.

“I really don’t like mingling with all the other people because it’s nothing but fighting with each other and yelling and screaming. Everyone has their own issues, mental issues or more,” Beckford said. 

Asheville city officials say over the past two years, 25% of violent crimes in Asheville have occurred within 1,000 feet from a homeless encampment. 

“I think because of COVID, the homeless population has increased a lot everywhere, Asheville included. It’s so expensive to live in Asheville. It won’t be easy for them to find any solutions to being homeless in this area any time soon,” said Vice President of UNC Asheville’s Feeding the Homeless Club Gabbie Wray. 

According to the Asheville city manager’s report in May, COVID significantly impacted homeless services. Shelter inventory decreased due to protocols, some programs closed and some programs had to decrease beds to allow for distancing. 

“Housing is becoming very expensive, so much that if you are on a fixed income such as SSI or SSDI, it is nearly impossible to find a place to rent that fits your needs like bus line proximity, being close to work and appointments,” said Allison Nolan, a Saratoga County outreach support official.

According to Zillow research officials, when housing prices force households to spend more than 32% of their income on rent, those communities will begin to encounter a rise in homelessness. Asheville saw a 6.9% growth in average rental prices in the past year. 

“Most of the housing, even housing through the public housing authority, are way above fair market rent which is adjusted by the area median income per geographic location. There is a lack of affordable housing in general, waiting lists are outrageous and many landlords do not accept vouchers such as Section 8,” Nolan said. 

Asheville city officials say they are working with partners on longer term solutions to solve the city’s homelessness issue. 

“I think everyone in all parts of the country should work on their implicit biases toward people facing homelessness and understand that nobody truly wants to be stigmatized and belittled for just existing,” Nolan said. “Take the time to educate yourself through reading books, watching documentaries, maybe volunteering at your local shelter or soup kitchen and engage in meaningful conversation with someone you may not have approached before.” 

At UNCA, students work together to provide aid to the homeless. The Feeding the Homeless Club asks students to donate their extra meal swipes to help feed Asheville’s unhoused population. 

“We collect a bunch of meals and bring them downtown where we partnered with the Asheville survival program to distribute the meals. We provide around 40 meals every Sunday for the unhoused community of Asheville,” Wray said. 

Along with UNCA’s Feed the Homeless Club, Asheville Homeless Outreach Project for Empowerment works to prevent and end homelessness by providing care and housing for the homeless community. 

“I go to AHOPE, like Homeward Bound. I’m on the housing list but I’ve been on it for about four years so that’s taking forever,” Beckford said. “Some people are nice and some people are mean and you don’t understand why they are working with them.”

Asheville city officials say they are working to maintain a safe environment by looking at changes to current city ordinances such as camping on city property, public urination, park closing time, trespassing, tents in public and obstruction on sidewalks.

“I think the city of Asheville could be doing more for the situation for sure so people don’t have to be out on the streets especially as it’s getting colder. I don’t know exactly what the city is or isn’t doing but anyone can see we have a big population of people living on the streets,” Wray said.