ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Just two days after a Homeward Bound outreach program manager was on site warning people of a homeless encampment’s impending removal, the area on the French Broad Greenway was cleared as advocates feared.

Mike DeSerio warned campers of the encampment’s removal on Dec. 28, but at that time did not know a timeline. It was leveled the afternoon of Dec. 30 as Asheville Police Department officers watched an excavator raze tents, debris and trash and load it into the back of a city of Asheville dump truck.

Andrew Parsons, who said he’d been living at the encampment for about a month, told the Citizen Times that APD officers woke him around 10 a.m. and told him they were clearing people out. He said they told him bulldozing would begin in a few hours.

“Supposedly we’d been warned. I’ve never been warned.”

By about 1 p.m., he said the clearing had started. By 4 p.m., it was still ongoing. Crews and APD officers clustered along the hillside, the turned earth painting a bare strip along the ridge.

The French Broad encampment clearing follows the Dec. 9 clearing of a 35-tent homeless encampment off of I-240, as well as many others this year, including the removal of demonstrators and unhoused people from Aston Park, in Martin Luther King Park and under the I-240 bridge on North Lexington Avenue.

It also was not the first clearing for this parcel of land. The property is owned by Duke Energy Progress, though the city holds a long-term lease for public recreation and greenway purposes. The section was cleared when construction for the new greenway began in June, though the previous encampment was located closer to the riverbank.

On Dec. 30, officers on site referred the Citizen Times to the APD spokesperson. The Asheville Police Department spokesperson did not respond to Citizen Times request for comment.

In a Dec. 30 statement from the city, spokesperson Christy Edwards said the “work with the camp continues.”

“Many campers are packing up and plans are in place to address the trash,” Edwards said. “As always, we are working in partnership with service providers to address the needs of the campers.”

That evening, Parsons struggled to push a metal grocery cart up a steep embankment. In it was most of what he could save -- a pile of tarps, blankets and nylon tents.

Below him, construction equipment still churned, clearing what hours before had been about a dozen tents lining the flat ridge.

“I pretty much expect it at this point,” Parsons said. Newly homeless in Asheville, he said this is the third encampment he’s lived at in the city that’s been cleared.

The first time, he lost everything. The second was from the sprawling encampment off of I-240 that was cleared Dec. 9. He got warning before it happened and relocated here -- to a encampment on the side of a steep bank, overlooking the River Arts District.

Now, he doesn’t know where he will go next.

“Find a new spot,” he said. “Which is pretty much don’t find no spot at all.”

In a statement emailed to the Citizen Times Dec. 30, Duke Energy spokesperson Bill Norton said, “While Duke Energy owns the property, it is leased to the City of Asheville for the French Broad River West greenway. We are working with the city to address the encampment as quickly as possible.”

A few tents moved up the bank out of the construction zone, and the encampment fluctuated in size over the last several months, according to neighbors.

Parsons said he was able to warn the few people who were sleeping at the encampment when the police arrived, but everyone else -- he estimated around 15 people -- lost everything.

At the end of the rutted dirt path that leads from the encampment to Riverview Drive was the rest of the belongings he salvaged before the demolition: another buggy, a small pushcart, a backpack and a five-gallon bucket of tent poles.

He said a lot of his things -- like propane tanks, personal heaters and other tents -- he had loaned out to other campers.

“I didn’t know this was coming, or I wouldn’t have let them borrow it,” Parsons. “I don’t think anyone did, or they would have been here to get their stuff.”

In a statement given earlier in December, city spokesperson Polly McDaniel said the city has been communicating about the situation since March and is aware of the encampment. She said consistent outreach has been done at this location.

Unsure where he is going to set up camp next, Parsons said he is holding out hope that his I.D. will soon arrive in the mail. Without a social security card or I.D., he struggles to find work.

“No way to get work, you have no way to get out,” he said.

“A lot of the people up here were just trying to get away from the riff raff downtown ... We were up here for a reason, so we could get away.”

(1) comment

David Collins

So , these folks have gone from homeless to campers . How about what they are ? Vagrants , bums , rag baggers , squatters . Yet for some reason they are glorified and deeded dependent on the free use of public land and facilities which others have to pay for , clean up and tolerate the drug use . Yeah , fine example for the children of our country .

Next time , don’t bother waking them up . Plenty of room in the dump trucks .

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