Durham County

City ponders what to do about Durham Freeway homeless camp as trespass ban is posted

Volunteers search a fence line in Durham looking for homeless people Wednesday night, January 28, 2016 in Durham. Dozens of volunteers fanned out across Durham that night to conduct the annual Point-in-Time Count, a snapshot of the area’s homeless population. The count helps social service and charitable agencies determine what kinds of services are most needed and whether the number of homeless people is rising, falling or holding steady.
Volunteers search a fence line in Durham looking for homeless people Wednesday night, January 28, 2016 in Durham. Dozens of volunteers fanned out across Durham that night to conduct the annual Point-in-Time Count, a snapshot of the area’s homeless population. The count helps social service and charitable agencies determine what kinds of services are most needed and whether the number of homeless people is rising, falling or holding steady. tlong@newsobserver.com

Responding to a complaint from the city, the state Department of Transportation has placed “no trespassing” signs on a portion of state-owned right of way on the Durham Freeway that has served as a camp for homeless people.

City officials heard complaints about the camp located near West Chapel Hill Street and contacted the NCDOT, said Steve Abbott of the DOT’s communications office. The Department of Transportation then put up the signs reminding people that the area is state property, Abbott said.

The Department of Transportation does not have authority to kick people off the property, Abbott said. That authority rests with local law enforcement, he said. “All we did was put the signs up. We don’t throw people out,” Abbott said.

To allow law enforcement to enforce the trespassing law, no trespassing signs have to be put up designating the area as state property. Abbott said the signs were placed about two weeks ago.

The city does not plan to remove people from the camp immediately. “I know that the city administration and our nonprofit partners are working together to find some solution that involves having the people living at this encampment leave voluntarily,” stated City Council member Charlie Reece in an email to a resident. Reece added, “no action is imminent. I have been assured that nothing will happen in relation to that site before the first week in February.” Reece also added, “Under no circumstances will people’s belongings be destroyed.”

WRAL first reported the story. State transportation officials said the complaint is the first ever they have received about the camp, WRAL reported. About five people now live at the camp, WRAL reported.

According to the January 2017 Point-In-Time Count taken on one night at the end of that month, 8,962 people in North Carolina were homeless that night.

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1

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