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Residents who live near Asheville homeless camp say city leaders need to address issue

By Kimberly King

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — After weeks of headlines about Asheville homeless camps where residents have overdosed and neighboring homeowners have complained about trash and crime, one public voice in the stories and conversations about the crisis has been silent.

“The mayor needs to address this, make it a priority” said Mark Rosenstein, who lives on Riverview Drive, across from a camp in the River Arts District. “She’s the leader of the community, the elected official to lead this community and address these issues. She needs to be asked directly, ‘What is your position on this and how much of a priority is it.’ And it would be sad if she ignored that question.”

During his decades as a chef and Asheville restaurant owner, Rosenstein was one of the leaders who started the farm-to-table movement. He’s spent plenty of volunteer hours serving on Asheville committees and civic boards, including serving as the first chair of Asheville’s Downtown Association.

Rosenstein said there’s a leadership vacuum. He and many of his neighbors said they’ve lost patience with the city’s ambivalence and complacence in executing a clear-sighted plan when it comes to managing or dissolving homeless camps like the one on the ridge across from Rosenstein’s home.

He’s watched as Duke Energy, which owns the property where the homeless have set up camp, and Asheville leaders have played political hot potato with how or when to close camps when issues like trash, fires, emergencies and overdoses arise.

“Every time I call Duke, they say it’s not their issue,” Rosenstein said. “I say it is your issue, you own the property, and it’s a safety and sanitation issue. I’ve heard nothing from anyone.”

Last week, News 13 reported on the RAD encampment, but despite repeated requests in covering that camp and others, Mayor Esther Manheimer has never responded to repeated requests to talk about the crisis or provide a statement.

“Leadership should be addressing a city’s hardest problems. If you are a leader, your job is not to ignore, your job is to bring people forward in the issues. And by not doing that, the message is it’s not important,” Rosenstein said.

News 13 asked Manheimer to respond to Rosenstein. She emailed the following statement:

Homelessness in Asheville is a complex crisis. And poses one of the greatest challenges our city has faced in recent years. To effectively address homelessness, the city has and continues to work with numerous partners in our community such as the county, the state, the veterans administration, the hospital, MAHEC, Vaya Health, numerous faith based institutions and non-profits such as ABCCM, Rescue Ministries, Homeward Bound, Sunrise, Pisgah Legal Services, United Way, just to name a few. Bringing together these partners and creating a collaborative, coordinated response is a constant effort. The ongoing pandemic has only exacerbated and exposed this crisis and put our efforts and resources to the test.”

In the email, Manheimer said she was out-of-pocket and didn’t say if she would sit down with News 13. She wrote a second paragraph that touched on resident concerns that have been voiced on News Thirteen for months.

“The people of Asheville are compassionate and caring, but they also expect community safety, cleanliness and that all individuals will abide by the law,” the mayor said. “There is certainly a wide range of opinions as to how this crisis should be managed, city council hears from folks all across the opinion spectrum. Council tries to lead with compassion while managing homelessness in collaboration with the city’s partners using best practices aiming for best outcomes, to bring an end to homelessness.”

City spokeswoman Dawa Hitch said staff had asked the campers in the RAD encampment to leave before Christmas. Hitch acknowledged there were still people camping and said staff were working to find a safe way to close the camp.

The city took months to close a homeless encampment along Interstate 240, where crime reports showed multiple overdoses and a reported rape.

Rosenstein, along with anyone who’s followed the homeless crisis, is aware the issue is complicated. He knows Duke Energy owns the property where the RAD camp is and said the company has done nothing to close it.

“From the human suffering of people that are homeless to public safety and public sanitation, who else does it fall to, to say, we need to address this” Rosenstein asked.

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