A couple weeks ago I went with some folks from the Asheville Police Department (APD) to visit some campsites in the city limits. The trip was part of a new APD policy; rather than destroying campers’ belongings or arresting them for trespassing, APD is notifying folks that camping’s not allowed on public land and that they have 7 days to relocate. The police don’t want folks living out there any more than we do, so they’ve invited some community service providers – us included – to accompany them on these visits as an opportunity to outreach the folks who are camping & get them connected to services
I’ll admit it: I was nervous when we pulled out of the parking lot at 5 a.m. There were 4 outreach workers (including me), a couple City staff, and a lot of police officers. If that many people walked into my home & woke me up, I’d be scared and angry.
But all 5 of our campsite visits were positive experiences. The police officers were kind and respectful, as were the folks camping. My job was by far the easiest, because every single person we encountered said they’re already coming into A HOPE and they already know who we are and what we’re about. Two of them said they were moving into housing through us that week, and two more said they were on the waitlist. It’s a pretty powerful experience to wake someone up under a bridge & know that next week she’ll wake up in her own home because of an agency you’re a part of.
In the end, I came away feeling good about the relationship we’ve built & will continue to strengthen with APD. I felt great about the reputation we’ve established among folks who are homeless. And I felt encouraged that what we’re doing is actually working. No one in my hometown should be living outside, and I’m proud to work for an organization that takes real action on that with sustainable results. I believe that we can end homelessness here, and seeing those campsites didn’t discourage me from that; it encouraged me to keep doing what we’re doing, so those folks can have the safety & stability that I have in my life and that comes with housing and support.