Homeless forced to leave their camp near downtown Durham
It's possible to be evicted even when you're homeless.
“They're running us out, basically,” said Lamont Jordan.
The homeless men and women living in a camp they call “Tent City,” in the woods by West Chapel Hill Street and The Durham Freeway, received notices June 1, telling them to vacate the premises by June 8 or face arrest.
Jordan has lived in Tent City for six months.
He knows his home has problems – no bathrooms, no garbage bins and loud arguments that sometimes echo past the trees into the ears of passersby – and that the problems have led to complaints.
“People have their ways. There is a lot of addiction here,” Jordan said. “Disagreements. Disagreements' loud noise.”
But, he said, “We're human.”
As of Tuesday, nine people were living on the hill overlooking the freeway.
“Please take your personal belongings with you,” the notice said. “Unattended property may be removed immediately by the City.”
The notices were signed by Durham Police Capt. Brian Reitz, the District 3 commander.
If the people living in Tent City don't leave by Saturday, they could be charged with second-degree trespassing, police told them.
The land is the property of the N.C. Department of Transportation.
“In our communication with DOT, they had sent the initial letter that said they needed help moving people off the property,” City Manager Tom Bonfield said. “Until we received the official trespass notification from DOT, we didn't have the legal authority for the Police Department to notify them officially that they were trespassing.”
In an email, police spokesman Wil Glenn wrote, “The NCDOT has requested that DPD enforce the trespass provisions … upon these premises.”
However, NCDOT spokesman Sean Williams said, “We were asked by the city for assistance with the homeless camp.”
To satisfy the City of Durham's request, Williams said, the NCDOT posted “No Trespassing” signs the first week of January.
“We then sent a letter to the city, asking for its 'assistance in enforcing the law,'” Williams wrote in an email. “Per the city’s request, we also sent an authorization form in May. …We have no legal authority to enforce the law or physically evict someone. Any steps regarding that are up to the city.”
Tent City dwellers
Jordan's last job was escorting patients at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center two years ago, he said.
“I got my ID and Social Security card stolen," he said. "I'll have to get new ones to work again, after, I get evicted.”
He was born in Brooklyn, he said. “Bed Stuy, Do-or-Die.”
But, Jordan left New York City for Durham after a stroke left him unable to keep pace with metropolitan life.
“I'd take the G to the L and go up to Canarsie,” he said. “I couldn't keep up with the train anymore. … I couldn't keep up.”
In recent months, Jordan said, he's made ends meet selling incense and oils with a business partner.
“I've got to keep afloat,” Jordan said. “I like to drink beer.”
He said he understands how some of his neighbors' aggressive behaviors may disturb the community at-large.
“I'm just a happy drinker,” Jordan said. “I have a lot of pain.”
Rustling in the branches signaled someone's imminent approach into camp.
Jordan turned his head to see Sandra McCullen riding in on a LimeBike – part of Durham's bike-share fleet.
“I got the job,” McCullen said.
“OK,” Jordan said. “OK, Baby Girl.”
One homeowner wrote to Bonfield saying the homeless camp had affected her homeowner's insurance and if it remains could devalue her property and surrounding properties.
Jordan and McCullen both said police told them nearby landlords have complained about the camp. McCullen said “a couple of drunks keep [urinating] outside of the fence."
McCullen's new job as a cashier will help pay for medication like the blood thinner Warfarin, she said. Doctors recently refused her medication without payment, she said.
“I could get a heart clot anytime,” McCullen said. “I could die in one of these tents any night, and no one would know.
“At night there's no light out here – pitch dark,” she continued. “No one would know, except for the rats.”
The Rev. Carolyn Schuldt, executive director of Open Table Ministry, said city officials asked her make people's transitions out of the homeless camp smooth.
In recent months, the ministry has found housing for three Tent City residents, placed two residents on waiting lists for housing and paid travel fare for several others to reunite with family members out of state, Schuldt said.
At least two people living in the camp refuse to leave, she said.
McCullen doesn't know where she'll go. She said, she's at a loss for how to transport her possessions — a big tent, a makeshift bed — without a car.
She'll be happy to get away from the rats. But then again, she said, “At least, the rats take care of the snakes.”