State crews break up homeless camp

Paul Clark
Black Mountain News
State crews gave homeless people time to collect their things before bulldozing a camp they had lived in beside Interstate 40.

A state transportation crew bulldozed a camp of homeless people a month ago after walkers and the nearby BiLo grocery store complained, officials said.

Troy Wilson, district engineer for the state Department of Transportation, said his office bulldozed the site – on state right-of-way between BiLo and Interstate 40 – after the grocery store and walkers on the town’s greenway complained.

DOT representatives met with Black Mountain police on Nov. 17 and bulldozed the site Nov. 20, Wilson said. Some campers were there when the crew and a police officer arrived and were given time to take down their tents and gather their things, Wilson said.

The camp was there before Sonny Moore started working with area homeless people on behalf of Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry four years ago, he said.

Some of the campers have since come to the shelter that the ministry operates at the First Baptist Church in Black Mountain, Moore said. The ministry gives those who don’t want to stay at the shelter food, clothes and sleeping bags. It scheduled the Asheville-based Homeward Bound organization to come to the church shelter Dec. 12 to help people register for housing.

Moore has revisited the camp. Once a year – in January or February - he and others go around the Valley to count the number of campers as part of the county’s annual homeless head count. During the count last year, Moore said he visited the camp by the highway, as well as five homeless camps in Swannanoa and one in East Asheville. The camp near the interstate was the largest one he visited, he said.

It’s hard to tell how many homeless people are in the Swannanoa Valley currently, Moore said. The shelter at the church has had as many as 19 people, he said.

Complaints about homeless people in Black Mountain don’t come in often, police chief Shawn Freeman said. There’s not much police can do unless an owner complains. A concern about a seemingly homeless person sleeping on a table at a local grocery store Dec. 15 ended with two Black Mountain police officers buying the man some breakfast.

“The store manager said he wasn’t causing a disturbance,” Freeman said. “He wasn’t causing any issues, so my guys bought him breakfast, told him ‘Merry Christmas’ and left him sitting inside the store.”