Camping nixed in an office building | New
After receiving dozens of complaints throughout the winter about a building on South Main Street where homeless people often congregate, Waynesville code enforcement officials have taken action.
Richard Bates, owner of Professional Bethel Building, has been told that allowing tents and camping on the property and people to live in a storage building is against codes, said Elizabeth Teague, director of services at city development. He was cited on April 23, but as bad weather was expected, he was given the weekend to comply.
“After being brought to our attention, we recognize that they violated local ordinances,” Bates said in an email to The mountaineer. “We understand that those who enforce these ordinances are doing their job. We also appreciate that we had the time to bring them down in order to guarantee a level of dignity to their occupants.
Teague said when the building permit was issued, the rules were set and accepted.
“They told us their intention was to provide premises to nonprofit organizations for counseling services and possibly AA meetings – to provide support to those providing help to those in need. She said.
Even as the property was undergoing renovations last summer, neighbors and business owners began to notice an assortment of people gathering at the house and lingering on the porch until late in the evening. , some still being there the next morning.
“Several times during the year we were aware that people were sleeping on the porch and probably sleeping in the house,” Teague said, noting that the city had not pushed the problem during the winter when the people were in need. “It was really disappointing for us to hear from neighbors that there were tents in the backyard and porta-johns set up that were not being maintained.
Other fire code violations included passing a drop cord from the house to a storage building where an electric heater was plugged in, a second bypass cord to a tent, and a power strip where multiple phones could be. plugged in, Teague said.
She said Bates had since rectified or was working to eliminate the violations.
A way forward
The city’s action sparked angry emails and comments on social media, Teague said.
“People were telling us how evil and unchristian the city was,” Teague said. “I very much appreciate the need to address this situation, but we have to honestly work together – the city, the nonprofits and the government departments – to find a solution and create a safe situation.”
What is not acceptable, she said, is allowing blatant disregard for the rules that everyone must follow. The city has intentionally taken several steps to expand affordable housing, she said. The role of her department is to create a zoning framework for opportunities that may arise, she added.
“If we do it cooperatively and with the right spirit of community, we can find this way forward. Waynesville is full of the most caring and compassionate people I have ever met. We don’t have to bend the rules to create solutions. “
Bates agrees the problem is bigger than what’s happening at the Bethel Professional Building, a resource center meant to help those in need in the county by providing workspace for a number of organizations with a similar mission. .
“The question for our community as a whole to think about is this,” Bates’ email said. “The occupants of these temporary shelters have become a large part of the workforce needed in our county and almost all of them work one, and in some cases two, jobs in the area. They work for large and small employers and now meet the criteria of those who often say that anyone who wants to work can work these days.
The problem is the lack of housing.
“What members of the community at large cannot say is that anyone who wants a place to live near these jobs can find a place to live these days,” he wrote. “There are no housing options for these people who work in the town of Waynesville and in the reasonably remote outdoor areas.
Bates said those affiliated with the Bethel Professional Building will continue to work with people “whom God loves and we are called to love,” on an individual basis.
“We only hope that others will provide them with the respect and dignity that we all desire and deserve,” he wrote, “not counted, investigated and in many cases, criminalized”.
Teague agreed that the shortage of available housing is a real challenge in Waynesville, despite the city’s efforts to address affordable housing issues.
“We are trying to look at this issue from all sides, and the city is a piece of the puzzle,” she said.