A message from Chamber President & CEO Kit Cramer:
We’re seeing a convergence of issues around safety. I wanted to make you aware of opportunities to weigh in.
The Chamber has joined forces with a variety of strategic partners to find ways to enhance security and cleanliness in two of our most concentrated business areas, Downtown and West Asheville. Both took big hits during the pandemic with business closures, and both have become gathering places for people experiencing homelessness, as well as the annual “travelers” who visit.
We have submitted a grant application around a concept called Community Connectors, an effort to put teams on the street to proactively identify cleanliness issues that need to be addressed by public works, and to connect individuals who are experiencing mental health or substance abuse issues with services.
The idea is that an advisory team of public, non-profit and business representatives would develop a job description for Community Connector street teams, as well as define the scope of work they’d like to see such teams perform, after learning about similar programs in other cities. We’d then work with the City to hire a firm to do the work of hiring and managing these teams. The program would be funded in equal parts by the County relief funds, the City and the Tourism Development Authority. We feel it’s a great step in reimagining public safety while providing a greater sense of security for residents, employees, customers and business owners Downtown and in West Asheville. Both areas are concentrated sources of tax base and employment for our community. We’d like to use this program as a pilot project to determine the impact such a collaboration could have on public safety.
City proposal for low-barrier shelter:
The second area that has been a source of discussion is the City’s proposal to purchase a hotel to develop into an emergency shelter. No community wants to need a new shelter in town. And no one wants to “own” the complex issue of homelessness and the snarl of social issues that accompany it: addiction, mental health, lack of affordable housing, etc. But the issue is with us whether we like it or not.
We support the City’s contention that camping in public places is not safe for anyone—not the person experiencing homelessness, nor the residents, employees or customers in a given area who experience the needles and trash such camping causes. To the City’s credit, they are proposing the creation of an emergency shelter, with the cost being shared by the County through relief funds. While there are people unhappy at the thought of a shelter being established near them, that would be an issue wherever it was opened. The fact that the city wants to take steps to stop urban camping from becoming habitual is to be commended.
If you agree that we need to provide more of a sense of security in our central business districts, and that we need to discourage urban camping, please register your support with County Commissioners and tell them you support the Community Connectors grant application, as well as the concept of creating an emergency shelter that will get people off the streets and connected to the appropriate services for substance abuse and mental health.