40 Homeless Face Arrest For Wake Co. Encampment

NC Newsline - More than 40 people living in a tent encampment on a state-owned, unused lot at the intersection of Highways 401 and U.S. 70 near the Raleigh-Garner border have been told to leave by 10 a.m., Tuesday or face arrest for trespassing.

Advocates for the people in the encampment have called a 9 a.m., press conference Tuesday to bring attention to what they are calling an “act of unmitigated cruelty,” coming as it does during the National Week of Action to Oppose the Criminalization of Homelessness.

“The whole thing in my opinion is it’s Raleigh’s shame, or even greater, it’s Wake County’s shame, that we have so many people living on the streets, living in their cars, pitching tents on pieces of empty land and there’s no where for them to go,” Patrick O’Neill, an advocate for those in the tent encampment, told NC Newsline.

Marcia Timmel, a Garner resident and retired Wake County school teacher who organized an Easter meal for the encampment, said she will stand with people who live there  and refuse police orders to vacate the property unless Raleigh and Garner officials provide them with a safe alternative.

“Raleigh should not prevent anyone from pitching their tent on public land unless an alternative is provided, and help is provided to relocate the unhoused to safer quarters,” said Timmel, who is disabled due to Parkinson’s Disease.

The eviction from the grassy encampment near bus lines and shopping would come one day after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument about the constitutionality of ordinances in Grants Pass, Oregon that bar people who are experiencing homelessness from using blankets, pillows or cardboard boxes to protect themselves from the elements while sleeping within the city limits.

The case could shape municipal homeless policies across the country if upheld by the high court. Advocacy groups for people experiencing homelessness and others argue that allowing cities to punish people who need a place to sleep is tantamount to criminalizing homelessness.

In an emailed statement, Julia Milstead, a spokesperson for the City of Raleigh, called the order to leave the site a “difficult and emotional situation for everyone.” She stressed that the property is owned by the State of North Carolina. She said the city is working with the N.C. Department of Transportation to find a solution.

Milstead said the people in the encampment have “consistently declined services” offered by the Raleigh Police Department’s Addressing Crises through Outreach, Referrals, Networking, and Service (ACORNS) unit and the City of Raleigh.

“We will continue to help make connections to programs available through the City and private partners,” Milstead said. “Enforcement is our last option in this complicated situation.”

Kathy Valdez, 63, lives in the encampment with husband Horse Valdez, who is battling lung cancer and prostate cancer. She and others there have been made to feel like criminals, Kathy Valdez said.

“That’s exactly what they’re doing,” she said. “Every time they [police officers] come, they’re coming with threatening voices and they’re telling us that we’ve got until April 23, and we’ve got to be out or we’re going to jail.”

The Valdezs found themselves in the encampment about three months ago due to a financial hardship and a decision by their landlord to renovate the place they rented. They have two adult children living in the encampment as well.

A third child, Colton Valdez, was shot and killed in the parking lot of the Walmart on Fayetteville Road in January after he got into an argument with a man over a parking space. Colton Valdez pulled out a BB gun. The man pulled out a handgun and opened fire, killing him. The Wake County District Attorney’s Office determined the shooting was justified.

After they lost their rented housing, Kathy Valdez said the family decided against moving to a shelter because there aren’t any that allow families to stay together. She also has two dogs that would not be allowed in a shelter.

“I’m just now losing my son,” Kathy Valdez said. “I need my children with me more than anything in this world, and they don’t accept whole families.”

Horse Valdez said the encampment provides comfort and safety for the people who choose to live there.

“Now, they’re pushing us out where it’s not safe,” Horse Valdez said in a press release announcing Tuesday’s press conference. “Where do you want us to go? We can’t even disappear into the woods no more. They come and seek you out.”

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