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Church considers move because of problems with homeless in the area, Asheville pastor says

By Samiar Nefzi

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — The pastor of Sycamore Temple Church of God in Christ said he’s contemplating moving the church because of an uptick in ongoing issues stemming from AHOPE Day Center.

Homeward Bound’s AHOPE is day center for people experiencing homelessness.

Pastor Samuel Payne Jr. said, over the years, the situation has escalated, from people defecating on the church’s property and using drugs to vandalism.

“Hopefully, the Lord will work something out, because we can’t tolerate this kind of behavior, calling the police everything you turn around,” Payne said. “The past couple of years, we’ve had a lot of trouble with the homeless situation. It has gotten worse.”

The church has called the 11 N. Ann St. location home for nearly 50 years, and now members of the congregation said they’re afraid to attend the church.

“We’re currently thinking about leaving this location because of the action and drama that surrounds here,” Payne said. “I don’t think the church needs to put up with that kind of behavior.”

The church stands about 300 feet from AHOPE.

“It wasn’t like this when AHOPE first moved here,” Payne said. “I don’t know if it’s the management or what. It is getting unbearable.”

Payne said he and others have repeatedly reached out to city leaders, including Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell, but they have not responded.

City council member Antanette Mosley, however, has spoken out about the ongoing issue and agrees something must be done.

“What I would like to have to happen would be a realization on their (AHOPE) part that things aren’t working,” Mosley said. “There are avenues available to the city. I hope we wouldn’t have to utilize it early.”

Mosley said she appreciates the effort to increase security efforts at AHOPE.

Starting Monday, Feb. 21, the center has had an overnight security guard — costing $11,000 per month and paid for by Homeward Bound.

Terry Simmons, who owns a rental home on Carter Street that sits behind AHOPE, has spoken several times about the ongoing battle with the center.

On Wednesday, Simmons shot a video of what appears to be a homeless person injecting himself and then tossing the syringe on Simmons’ property.

“We’ve got a nuisance neighbor at AHOPE,” Simmons said. “I want to see them gone.”

Mosley said she plans to review data to decide if AHOPE’s security guards help decrease the ongoing issues that impact those around the center.

“I believe there is a way we can take care of the neediest in the community and also protect everyone else,” Mosley said.

Homeward Bound interim executive director Cindy McMahon released the following statement, which reads in part:

We recognize that the negative impacts felt by our community and neighbors will not be transformed overnight and that we have ongoing and significant work to do to be the neighbors that we want to be, but we have seen improvements since investing in on-site, off-hours security. We are steadfastly focused on working with APD, the City of Asheville, our staff and clients, and our neighbors to find a solution that will be acceptable for all.”

Payne said he has been looking at other locations for Sycamore Temple Church of God in Christ but wouldn’t disclose where or when the move could happen.

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