Fed-up merchants describe the city’s downtown district as nearly lawless. People sleep and do drugs in doorways, barge into businesses yelling, brazenly shoplift, and frighten customers and employees. 

Some long-time downtown workers are calling it quits, disgusted with having to clean up human excrement, needles, broken windows, and trash. Aggressive panhandlers and transients, some appearing to be mentally ill, make them fear to walk alone to their cars at night.

They say they call the police, but the response is slow — if the police respond at all.

City officials have stayed mostly quiet — at least publicly.

On social media, out-of-town tourists — the mainstay of Asheville’s local economy — are calling the town “Trashville.” Some say they’ll never return.

Following a surge in break-ins, Asheville Watchdog reporters fanned out across downtown over several days in February to interview more than three dozen business owners, employees, and residents. Many expressed sympathy and compassion for the people experiencing homelessness who often are at the center of the problems, but nearly all of them said — with mixtures of sorrow and anger — that the city’s downtown district is in decline.

Today, Asheville Watchdog begins Down Town, a series that examines crime and the effects of a diminished police force; the consequences of increased homelessness and devastating drug addictions; the impact on tourism; the response by Asheville’s leaders; and the approaches used successfully in other cities.

Fewer police, more drugs, more homeless

It wasn’t always this way, long-time merchants and residents said. Yes, Asheville has long had problems with homelessness and petty crime, but something has changed profoundly in just the past two years, they said.

Ever since the pivotal year 2020 — pandemic, the George Floyd protests, the closing of the downtown police substation — people living on the streets or in homeless shelters have become much more visible, the police much less so. 

Coming Next in Asheville Watchdog’s Down Town series: Asheville’s diminished police force and the city’s crime rate. 

Emboldened by the lack of law enforcement, the pervasive use of methamphetamine, and a justice system that returns habitual lawbreakers to the streets time and again, the street people are becoming more aggressive, even confrontational.

“It has definitely saddened me to watch the decline,” said Cali Skye, who works downtown and first started coming to Asheville more than a decade ago. “I recall a time when downtown was rich with legitimate street artists and performers.”

Now, walking to and from her job, “I have many times been exposed to genitals in the street and had to walk through human waste,” Skye said. “What should be a thriving hub for art, tourism and local industry languishes and resembles a lawless wasteland.”

Fed Up with Crime

Carmen Cabrera

Carmen Cabrera left in early February as general manager of Mast General Store on Biltmore Avenue after 17 years, in part because of increased shoplifting and aggressive behavior.

“Every morning I’d come to work and there’s people sleeping in that front little alcove,” Cabrera said. 

“Everything has gotten worse in the last couple of years,” she said, especially shoplifting.

“In the past, if they knew we were watching, they would just leave, because they knew we were onto them,” she said. “Before I left, if they knew that we were watching, they would do it anyway and just walk straight out the door.”

Sometimes, confrontations got ugly. “If I tried to ask them for my products back, I almost got hit several times — you know, where I’d have to keep distance or keep a fixture between us, because I wasn’t confident that they wouldn’t become more violent,” Cabrera said.

Susan Marie Phipps, a jeweler and owner of Susan Marie Designs on Biltmore Avenue, opted out of her lease and closed her store Dec. 31 after 14 years downtown. Phipps is leaving Asheville altogether and moving to Anderson, South Carolina.

“I’m just over the crime, the transients, the drugs,” she said. “I’ve had human feces outside my store. I’ve had blood, God, you name it, adult diapers, food.”

Susan Marie Phipps said she had the option of keeping her store another nine years but left because of crime downtown. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Sometimes after a full day, Phipps said, “I used to get trapped in my store. I couldn’t get out of my business at night after hours because there’d be people passed out in my entryway.”

A $4,600 metal gate installed with the help of her landlord kept Phipps from having to clear her doorway in the morning.

“My entryway sleeps five guys and three dogs; that’s the most people and animals I’ve had,” she said.

Phipps said she feared walking to and from her car in a hotel parking garage in the next block. “I had started to carry pepper spray and tear gas.”

It became a regular occurrence, Phipps said, to see “these poor people walk around in circles, walk back and forth, talking to themselves, and they’re just all drugged up.” She said she observed nudity, weapons, and people passed out on sidewalks.

Surveillance video from a nearby business captured these people congregating in the doorway of a clothing store on Haywood Street around 8:30 p.m. on a weeknight.

Uptick in Crimes, ‘Aggressive Panhandling’

Downtown Asheville, like many cities in America, has long contended with homelessness, panhandling, drugs, and common crimes like shoplifting.

“I would say that in the last probably year and a half, the number of concerns … has gone up significantly,” said Meghan Rogers, executive director of the Asheville Downtown Association that advocates on behalf of businesses and residents for the vitality of downtown.

“It’s break-ins, vandalism, assaults, things like employees feeling unsafe walking to their cars at night,” said Rogers, who is leaving for another job at the end of February. “I think it’s an overlap between mental health, substance use, and people experiencing homelessness.”

This man, walking along Lexington Avenue on a Sunday just before 8 a.m., was yelling, “Burn it all, set it on fire.” He approached people in two cars, asking for money. // Watchdog photo by Sally Kestin

Erratic behavior has intensified with “people screaming obscenities or derogatory remarks at passersby” and “aggressive panhandling,” Rogers said.

“I don’t mean someone saying, ‘Hey, do you have a dollar?’ ” Rogers said. “I mean people really getting aggressive with kind of touching, following people, getting a little close.”

Employees and business owners routinely call 911 to report disturbances and crime. One owner estimated he had made more than 50 calls in the past year.

The 9-1-1 call log for the Shell gas station and convenience store on Merrimon Avenue, just north of the I-240 bridge at an intersection known for panhandling and homeless encampments, contains 994 calls in a little over two years.

Shell store manager Brandon Belcher and employee Malina Parris are sympathetic, having both experienced homelessness, but said drug use and crime have soared. // Watchdog photo by Sally Kestin

“Two months ago, we had someone overdose in the bathroom,” said one employee, Malina Parris. “We’ve had people throw water bottles at us. We’ve had people hit us. One day, I had a guy chase me with a knife.”

An employee’s car was stolen when a woman jumped in and drove off, Parris said. A customer was buying gas when “this dude came up and started beating his car with a crowbar.”

Problems increased dramatically since the pandemic, said store manager Brandon Belcher. 

Of 80 stores in the region, “we’re allowed the most labor,” Belcher said. “I have to have at least three people on to keep it safe.”

Little Public Discussion

Complaints about safety and cleanliness have poured into the city from downtown businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, visitors and local taxpayers for months and even years.

Yet the state of downtown, the hub of a thriving tourism industry whose health is important to merchants and residents across the city, has been glaringly absent from the public dialogue, many merchants said.

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer said downtown “has been a topic of a great deal of communication” and she shares concerns about safety and cleanliness. 

“I’ve been in Asheville since 1988,” said Manheimer, an attorney who works downtown. “I know that it has ebbed and flowed over the years, and I would definitely say it has been in better shape prior to now. And we’re working hard to try to get it back.”

Some business owners and workers said they believed city leaders were avoiding public attention on the problems for fear of scaring people away from downtown and harming businesses even more. 

“I think that there is this sort of unfounded fear that by speaking out about the downtown situation, they would become somehow less progressive,” said Skye, the downtown worker. “As far as I’m concerned, holding public servants accountable and encouraging third-party/civilian oversight in government institutions is as progressive as it gets.”

I think that there is this sort of unfounded fear that by speaking out about the downtown situation, they would become somehow less progressive.”


Tourism and business leaders have been trying to get the city’s attention. Kit Cramer, president and CEO of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, which has more than 1,650 members, said the condition of downtown is “all I’ve been talking about” in recent months.

While Asheville is a tourist town, Cramer said “this is not a visitor issue… This is an issue for people who work downtown, for people who want to do business downtown.”

Cramer said she talks to chamber executives across the country, “and they’re facing similar situations.”  

Victoria “Vic” Isley, president and CEO of Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the recent spate of break-ins and thefts “are really disturbing and concerning. . . and it’s not just downtown. It’s also West Asheville, the River Arts District and East Asheville.”

Last week, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority and the Chamber announced they had invited the City Council to a meeting “with a cross-section of businesses and people that have been affected by crime in our community.” The meeting, open to the public, will be March 1 at 1 p.m. at Rhubarb, 7 S.W. Pack Square Park.

If city leaders “cannot successfully manage these issues,” Skye said, “the so-called downtown revival will have been a flash in the pan for Asheville.”

Police Hard to Find

Businesses interviewed by Asheville Watchdog overwhelmingly pointed to a decline in police presence as a major factor in the perception of downtown as less safe.

The Asheville Police Department is down 40 percent of its force between vacancies and officers on leave. The department, like others across the country, saw an exodus of cops that started with the 2020 protests against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis policemen. 

As its resources shrank, the Asheville Police Department closed its downtown substation on Haywood Street in December 2020. And the number of officers patrolling downtown each shift dropped from eight to two, who also are responsible for policing Biltmore Village.

“We never see a police officer — only meter readers,” said Elissa Connor, manager of the Kingdom Harvest Wellness Dispensary and More on College Street.

Connor said the store moved from Biltmore Avenue in November in search of “more foot traffic” but said downtown has become “significantly worse” in the past two years.

‘Don’t bother calling the cops’

“If it stays like this, we’re gonna lose our tourism,” said Jonathan Mariano, owner of We’re Off to See the Wizard.

Jonathan Mariano, owner of We’re Off to See the Wizard on Haywood Street, has witnessed drug overdoses and robberies. He recently arrived to find his door lock jammed from an apparent break-in attempt.

“Don’t bother calling the cops … I gave up,” Mariano said. “If people don’t wake up soon, this is not going to be the city that people think it is.”

Rose Garfinkle works and lives downtown. She said she has no regrets about buying a downtown condo in 2006 and loves Asheville’s “food, music and mountains.”

But, Garfinkle said, “We really need beat cops, police on bicycles. The lack of a police presence is noticeable. Things have taken a turn in the last five years.”

Tourists have noticed, too. One visitor who stayed in a downtown condo wrote a review in 2021 praising the rental but said “the city felt unsafe.”

“Our three-night stay in the city had more than six very unpleasant experiences with homeless people tripping out on drugs, defecating on the grounds of the church across from the condo and overall aggression from them. I was more than a little surprised to spend that much time in a city that size without ever seeing a police officer.”

A Panic Button and Mace

With a diminished police force, downtown businesses have often been left to fend for themselves.

Margaret Lancaster reported a man and a woman who stole a $475 lamp from her store, Dog and Pony Show on Haywood Street, in November.

“I did call the police,” she said. “They said they would send somebody over, and it never happened.”

“All of us have had at least one scary situation,” said Margaret Lancaster, owner of Dog and Pony Show. “We can’t not talk about this.” // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

One of the thieves later returned to retrieve a cell phone she left behind, Lancaster said. “I’m on the phone with the police officer when she goes up to my shelf and grabs a set of expensive vases and literally looks at me and says, ‘And don’t you touch me or I’ll drop these,’ and just walked out the door with them.”

Lancaster said she recently arrived to find in her entryway books that had been set on fire and extinguished with urine.

“I’ve had people sleeping in the alcove when I come in in the morning and I had to wake them up,” she said. “My heart goes out, but the fire thing really kind of scared me.” 

“I’m here for the long haul,” Lancaster said. “I love my business, but I will say I have put in a panic button for my employees, and we have mace underneath the counter.”

Safety in Numbers

The law firm of McGuire Wood & Bissette on Patton Avenue has installed motion detectors and cameras inside and outside. 

“We had little to no security in our building five years ago,” said Andrew Atherton, an attorney in the firm. “We’ve added locks and codes to all the internal doors … We’ve had a few incidents of people coming into our building and stairwells and having to kind of get them out on our own.”

“I don’t want to lose some of that weirdness of Asheville,” said attorney Andrew Atherton. But the increase in mental illness and “open criminal activities… is a little unnerving to see.” // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

The firm has had two break-ins in the past year and a half, windows broken and graffiti. The lawyers switched parking lots for employees about two years ago because of transients and “needles in the parking lot consistently,” Atherton said.

“That’s become a bigger struggle for us, just feeling like our staff is safe in the early morning hours or late afternoon,” he said. Employees have reported “folks sort of approaching them.”

“We had a client that had a knife drawn on them walking just from our building to the parking lot, which is about a block,” he said.

The law firm now recommends that staff pair up when they leave, and adopted a policy for lawyers staying after hours to escort employees out. “We don’t want our staff members leaving the building by themselves,” Atherton said.

McGuire Wood & Bissette has been downtown since 1894, and Atherton came to Asheville in 2005. “We’ve had folks that I would say are homeless around town since I’ve been in Asheville, but the folks that are downtown lately seem to have more mental illness,” he said.

“Right across the street from our building, somebody was defecating in the mulch,” he said. “Our managing partner walked out the other night and two people were naked and maybe engaged in sexual intercourse.”

‘Completely On Our Own’

The store managers at Urban Outfitters at Haywood and College streets said they routinely clear out people sleeping in the large entryway and clean up what’s left behind: needles, human waste and food containers.

“There was a man shooting up on the sidewalk,” said Stacie Ziele, store manager. Employees have been documenting their encounters, and Ziele shared some with Asheville Watchdog.

  • “Person with mental illness came in repeatedly (upwards of 20 times a day), would walk in, put product on and dance around. Escalated to” yelling. 
  • A known shoplifter tried to enter the store daily and once followed a manager “while walking to car.” 
  • One person attempting to shoplift took a bottle of nail polish, “painted all over fitting room…and started vomiting in store.’’ 
  • Another urinated in front of the cash registers.
  • “Unhoused person defecated in front of store multiple times; Management caught person doing so on one occasion.”
  • “Unhoused persons camping in front of store constantly.” One became aggressive, kicked belongings and “stood in front of management with a weapon that looked like a table leg.” 
  • “Trash constantly left in front of business, including bodily waste-covered blankets, needles and food/assorted items.” 
Homeless people routinely sleep in the entryway of Urban Outfitters despite a sign on the door warning against trespassing, loitering and camping. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

With no one to call, the store managers remove disruptive people.

“We’re not mental health workers,” Ziele said. Employees are compiling the log of their experiences for the corporate owner to justify a need for private security.

“I hate that that’s where we have to go — a security guard standing at the door of a clothing store,” Ziele said.

Sophia Deck, manager at Madame Clutterbuckets Neurodiverse Universe on Battery Park Avenue, said a fellow merchant “looks out for us.” The merchant, she said, carries a gun.

“There’s a lot of people sleeping in front of the store,” Deck said. “As business owners we are completely on our own. We have no recourse except to be vigilant.”

Employees described being harassed on the job and while going to and from work. One said she dims the lights during closing time so people can’t see in her store. Another described running to her car, jumping in and locking the door after being followed by an aggressive panhandler.

Feeling Helpless

For safety, Ten Thousand Villages always has two employees on duty, said manager Stacy Smith, right, with colleague Karen Cop. //  Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Ten Thousand Villages on College Street ensures the store always has two employees.

“Shoplifting is the worst it has ever been,” said manager Stacy Smith.  Above her desk are two photos of known shoplifters. She said she has watched as thieves brazenly stole merchandise and walked out.

“There is nothing we can do about it,” Smith said. Police have “bigger crime” to pursue, but “we’re feeling a little bit helpless,” she said.

Employees have had to clean up human feces outside the entrance, and homeless people congregate on the sidewalk near the store, which is across from Pritchard Park. Smith said customers’ reaction ranges from sympathy to disgust, with some visitors saying they’ll never return to Asheville. 

Jeison Bosch, manager of Salsa’s restaurant on Patton Avenue near Pack Square, said some “really crazy people” have become violent and harassed staff. About a month ago, a large window on the side of the restaurant was broken.

Jeison Bosch, manager of Salsa’s, said the restaurant had to close due to vandalism. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

“We had to close the business for about four days,” he said, resulting in about $20,000 in lost revenue.

Bosch said staff used to give out food and drinks to people on the streets but stopped because some “drug addicts” became demanding and threatened violence. They now walk waitresses to their cars at night.

Trying to Survive

At the Pepper Palace hot sauce store downtown, Manager Laine Lewis sees both sides of the problem, having experienced homelessness herself. Asheville has a “cognitive dissonance,” she said, between an ever-growing supply of high-end hotels and people who don’t have basic housing.

“There’s a lot of mental health problems and a lot of homeless folks, and they’re all having a really hard time down here,” Lewis said. “I think they’re just doing whatever they need to survive.”

Lewis said she’s had to call the police a couple of times because of disruptive behavior in her shop, calls she said she dreads making. “They need help, they don’t need to be penalized,” she said.

“I try to do my best to be a kind and compassionate person, but at the same time, I have to do what I have to do for my job,” said Laine Lewis, manager of the Pepper Palace. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Lewis said she’s never been “houseless” but was homeless for three years. She now works 40 hours a week but still lives paycheck to paycheck.

“Being homeless again is like constantly hanging over my head,” Lewis said. 

The former bartender said she tries to be kind and compassionate but also keeps a machete close by. 

“I don’t know if I would ever actually use a machete on anybody,” Lewis said. “You have to have protection downtown.”

Staff at Claddagh Restaurant & Pub on College Street keep a baseball bat and pepper spray.

“We had a couple of guys who came in here, kicked our door in and (had) machetes and were threatening to rob us,” said Toby Rector, who tends bar at night. “It looked like some kids were on some drugs.”

Bartender Toby Rector and Mayra Cromer, owner of the Claddagh Restaurant & Pub. “We try our best to take care of everybody – it doesn’t matter if they’re homeless or not,” Cromer said. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Walking downtown, Rector said panhandlers have cursed him for refusing to give them a dollar or cigarettes.

“It’s new street people … younger kids,” he said.

Last year, someone broke a window, and another time stole alcohol. He and Cromer said “dine and dash” incidents — customers paying a tab with an invalid credit card or just skipping out — are also up.

Organized Crime?

Busker Rickey Allen Borrow said he’s seen more erratic behavior downtown in the past two years. “I’ve seen it get worse.” // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Rickey Allen Borrow said he’s been busking in Asheville for eight years and has noticed a shift downtown with more organization by those stealing and committing crimes. 

“It’s gotten extraordinarily organized in unsettling ways that I haven’t seen in Asheville before,” Borrow said. “It feels like that these people with criminal intent are communicating with each other who to watch, where to watch them, where they’re going.”

Borrow, who plays guitar and travels the country busking, stays with friends when he’s in Asheville. He said he has not directly felt threatened.

“But some of them will kind of — and I hate to use the expression ‘wing-nut out’ — doing some karate moves and practicing shadowboxing,” he said. “(They’re) in full view of me and yelling and acting hysterical, which has caused me concern. I’ve been seeing it every day.” 

Locals Staying Away

Asheville Discount Pharmacy has been on Patton Avenue across from Pritchard Park since 2001. In years past, Nur Edwards, the second-generation owner, said employees developed a rapport with people living on the streets.

“We’re asking for our employees to be able to get to and from work safely and to be able to run your business without living in fear,” said Nur Edwards, owner of Asheville Discount Pharmacy. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

“But now I just feel like there’s so many new faces that you’re never actually establishing any kind of relationship,” Edwards said. “And I think the other thing is, just the general increase in drug use leads to more unpredictable behaviors.”

Last summer, a disheveled, shirtless man entered the store and began screaming at the cashier, cursing and gesticulating wildly. Edwards sent a video of the incident to city leaders and said that while she worries about the safety of her employees, she’s not looking to “criminalize homelessness.”

“I feel like when you ask for help, it’s painted so negatively,” she said. “You kind of give up for fear of what’s going to be said against you.”

At a recent meeting, Edwards said, she was incorrectly portrayed as a political conservative “for saying that locals don’t want to go downtown.”

And tourists, she said, are asking if downtown is safe, “and that’s not really something that we used to get.”

This shirtless man entered Asheville Discount Pharmacy last summer, screaming obscenities at the cashier. // Surveillance video (modified)

Hunt Mallett, owner of Weinhaus on Patton Avenue, said the customer base for his shop, which sells wine and beer and has a small pub, has shifted to mostly tourists. The shop has been downtown since 1977, and Mallett lives above it.

Hunt Mallett, owner of Weinhaus, said some of the newer homeless people seem to be more aggressive. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

He said he feels relatively safe, but “the locals are not coming downtown nearly as much as they used to.” 

Belligerent Customers

Ron Barile, general manager of the Melting Pot Social on Patton Avenue, said staff have encountered disruptive people in the restaurant and discovered blood and needles in a downstairs bathroom.

“Now the bathroom is locked during non-business hours and weekends, where it was open all the time,” Barile said. “Some people locked themselves in there, especially when it was cold. I can understand that. I mean, people are looking for shelter.”

Barile moved from Florida in January and said he’s visited cities including Daytona Beach, Florida; Chicago; New York; and Charleston, South Carolina. Asheville, he said, has the highest concentration of homeless people he’s seen, including around Pritchard Park.

A bathroom downstairs from the Melting Pot Social had been used for bathing and shooting up drugs, said the restaurant’s general manager, Ron Barile. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

“I visited this area about six months ago, when we were kind of scouting where we were going to move to, and we noticed that right off the bat,” Barile said. 

Asked if the restaurant had problems with belligerent or threatening behavior, Barile quickly answered, “Yes.”

“There was a lady the first week I was here that was standing out the front door spraying an aerosol can — not sure what was in it or what she was doing,” Barile said. “But she came into the restaurant and started spraying it in the restaurant, so I had asked her to leave. She turned around, walked out and threw the can back into the restaurant.”

Restaurateur: Downtown ‘Very Unsafe’ 

Michel Baudouin, the chef-owner of the restaurant Bouchon on Lexington Avenue, wrote to tourism and elected officials in September.

“It is not a rumor, it is true that downtown has become very unsafe,” he wrote. “It is particularly dangerous now for our employees.”

Baudouin said downtown employees had “been robbed at gun and knife point and shot out (sic) with pellet guns. The panhandling is out of control and some of them are very forceful and/or intimidating”

He said he paid for parking for his employees in a lot “that they do not use because they are afraid to walk a half block.”

“Too many of our doors, entry ways, have become bathrooms,” Bouchon owner Michel Baudouin wrote to city leaders. “Beside human feces, they are littered with other trash including condoms and needles.” // Watchdog photo by Sally Kestin

Video of one incident early on a Saturday showed a man exposing himself to a female worker in the restaurant. “He appears to be pleasuring himself while looking at our building while [the employee] is inside, for a solid couple minutes,” Baudouin wrote.

“Then there was the incident of the houseless couple camping out and having sex on the side patio, leaving us used condoms to clean up,” Baudouin wrote.

An employee’s purse “was stolen off the bar during closing,” and another employee had to clean up after someone urinated in the stairwell to L’ecluse, the venue above Bouchon, he wrote. 

“We often have to go ask people outside to leave our guests alone, whether it be on the patio or when they arrive for their reservation,” Baudouin wrote. 

He told Asheville Watchdog little has changed since he wrote the email. Two weeks ago, someone broke into the restaurant and stole liquor, Baudouin said. 

Asked if city leaders had taken downtown merchants’ concerns seriously, he said, “I’ve not heard a thing from the city.”

[Editor’s note: This story was revised after its initial publication to conform with The Associated Press Stylebook’s guidelines for describing people who are experiencing homelessness.]

Barbara Durr, Gail Meadows, and William Robertson contributed to this report.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and surrounding communities. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Email skestin@avlwatchdog.org. John Boyle has been covering western North Carolina since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at jboyle@avlwatchdog.org

211 replies on “Down Town, Part 1: Merchants and workers say district is deteriorating”

  1. The mayor’s response (echoing her lack of urgency and empathy sadly displayed during the recent water fiasco) reminds me of Carrie Fisher’s line about the state of her marriage with Paul Simon that “…things were deteriorating faster than we could lower our standards.”

    1. Yep, the mayor never says anything bold or leader-ish. Just vague smug dismissive platitudes, for years and years…

      1. and years and years. soon asheville will learn the hard way(since they will not listen to our complaints) what happens when you willfully allow the city to descend into lawlessness. does anyone remember what downtown looked like in the 80’s? if you do not remember do not worry, you will see soon what an empty downtown looks like. boarded up store fronts covered in graffitti. also, the lost revenue from sales tax and property taxes will bankrupt the city in a relatively short time. (or cause the taxes of those left to skyrocket to cover the shortfall) this is so frustrating to locals because we have been sounding alarm bells for a few years now, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. I feel frustrated, angry and let down by leadership beholden to a vocal minority who have decided that cops are bad and the homeless, the drug addicts, and the violent mentally ill should have preference over those of us who actually live here and pay taxes. what a shame, it did not have to end this way for asheville.

        1. Bad cops ARE bad. We don’t need more of that. If they get desperate and hire the dregs that can’t get on at good places and then don’t even train them properly, you get Taco Bell, not the efficient and effective law enforcement and crime prevention we need.
          The focus should be on the problem areas. If you are staying out of trouble and doing what you’re supposed to do, why should the focus be on you? Get the drug and mental health problems addressed, then what’s left of crime, and then the focus can be more on the particulars of what recreational spenders want in the community. Until then, I couldn’t care less about whatever short-term thing will be added to an area I don’t want to go to.

          1. I agree. During the George Floyd march, when the police allowed white men carrying long arms to stand around the perimeter of the march in a threatening manner, even after curfew and after they had pepper sprayed peaceful, unarmed protesters, we were promised answers as to why that happened. I may have missed it, but I don’t think chief Zack ever supplied those answers. Instead he got a large chunk of tax payer money to go on a PR campaign.

          2. What? Where in this article did it discuss “bad cops”? Jeez did you even read the stories of these victims?

        2. Come to the next city council meeting and say these words!!! I could not agree more and know many more who do as well!
          Have you joined the safety group on Facebook? If not, you should! Also… this comment would be an awesome letter to city council
          & mayor & city manager!

        3. I get what you are saying, but before it implodes entirely downtown will first become the kind of place only tourists looking to get wild will go. Crime will get much worse, but the corporate folks making money without any regard at all to what made AVL magic won’t give a damn.

        4. Bob, chill. Asheville is the victim of its popularity, to those with money looking to let loose and those without money looking to let loose. If you want to play the blame game, play somewhere else.

      2. Got to love all the clowns that bring up everything from everywhere as if it is relevant to our problem HERE. The responsibility lies with our city governors, and us as voters who elected them. Perhaps we should vote better.

    2. Hey. What’s the problem? Isn’t tearing down the Vance Monument more important? Or beautifying the entrance to Asheville? Or reparations? And isn’t shop-lifting a form of “equity”? And chatting with a deranged panhandler certainly qualifies as “inclusion.” And as for “diversity,” the homeless mingling with the elite in the lobby of the Arras surely checks that box. And what’s wrong with sleeping outside? Thoreau did it. Granted Pritchard Park isn’t Walden Pond, but c’mon, relax! And the Hallmark cards from the mayor and city manager–those avatars of positive thinking– will encourage a return to Open Table and to reserve dinner at one of our great restaurants. But Uber there. Those parking garages ain’t grandma’s cozy parlor.

      1. You make many excellent points, Marshall. And look at this from the article:

        “One visitor who stayed in a downtown condo wrote a review in 2021 praising the rental but said “the city felt unsafe.””

        OMG, why should resident taxpayers who do not benefit from tourism give a damn about a visitor having an unpleasant stay in an illegal STR that could be housing a police officer or teacher?

  2. Thank you. As a local working downtown and someone that regularly socializes downtown, there is no doubt that downtown is less safe. I feel much less safe even as a fit 6ft male. In my conversations with numerous homeless in Asheville, I’ve never met one from WNC. All have been from other areas and came here because they heard that Asheville is great for the homeless or hobo lifestyle, with few rules or police. Our city must do something. All city council members should be required to walk around downtown at night, alone, on non-weekend nights (when less crowds are out) and see if they feel safe. My prediction? They won’t do it.

  3. As a second home owner and a lover of walking town , I’m now afraid .
    America needs more mental facilities everywhere. It was criminal for these hospitals to be shut down during Reagan’s term.
    I remember this so clearly as i had worked as an RN at one hospital. It has just deteriorated every since with mental patients and homeless living in the streets with no care.
    Of course we NEED police presence that is visible as well

    1. Check your facts! It was not Regan’s term, it was Carter that closed all the mental hospitals and told the cities to take them in!!

      1. CJ. Carter tried to pass legislation to aid the states mental health problems. Reagan cut federal aid to states for mental health. He also closed mental health facilities when he was governor of California. Please research the data and correct me if I am wrong.

        1. With Federal money comes Federal requirements, regulations, inspections, and more costs. This is not a Federal problem, it is a local problem, and the local governments (city, county, state) should deal with it in the manner they deem best, not as determined by someone in WDC who has never experienced the real world. Of course, our local government, the city of Asheville, deals with it by ignoring it. Sometimes you just can’t win.

        1. well, well… we’ve got the mentally ill -more often than not, schizophrenic- homeless… and we’ve got the demented/ belligerent MAGA internet trolls. Personally, I’ll take the homeless ones any day. As for downtown Asheville… it’s become an east coast magnet for the homeless ….what with our booming tourist trade and the never ending stream of well off retirees moving here. No easy answers here… sigh.

      2. 1980 President Jimmy Carter signs the Mental Health Systems Act to improve on Kennedy’s dream.

        President Ronald Reagan
        President Ronald Reagan (Library of Congress)
        1981 President Reagan repeals Carter’s legislation with the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. This pushes the responsibility of mentally ill patients back to the states. The legislation creates block grants for the states, but federal spending on mental illness declines.

        I checked the facts.

        1. Carter also put solar panels on the White House.
          Reagan removed them. Or actually, he had my brother-in-law’s company remove them.

  4. I am so sorry to hear in more detail what the merchants of downtown Asheville are having to deal with on a daily basis. And I am deeply disappointed in our leadership who are not properly dealing with the situation I have lived in Asheville for 41 years and it is heartbreaking to see where things have ended up. I never go downtown anymore which is very sad. We desperately need change. Thank you for your honest and comprehensive reporting.

  5. We have lived in Asheville for 12 years and went downtown to dine and enjoy every weekend. No more. The beautiful city we call home has fallen into uncaring hands and not aging gracefully. What a shame. I hold city managers and elected officials 100% accountable for the pathetic decline.

    1. You are 100% correct. This falls on them. Our public servants are not serving our city. We need better choices for Mayor. We need a manager who is accountable. “Where was Campbell during the water outage?”
      Esther still didn’t acknowledge just how bad this downtown situation is wheb she is quoted on this article. We need a full time mayor and one that isn’t a third time incumbent that continues to do nothing!

  6. Y’all gonna interview any actual unhoused people to learn how things got this way, or just parrot the chamber of commerce talking points?

    1. Yes, we are interviewing the unhoused. This is the first of a series of stories. And the comments in this one are not Chamber talking points. They are the responses we got when we asked people downtown about their experiences.

      1. i also hope that you interview more people who live outside of asheville and the various reasons they do not go downtown anymore. my wife and i only go to waynesville, brevard and hendersonville and we only live 6 miles from downtown.

      2. Oh, I live part time downtown. The remarks from these interviewees are on point. Thank you for this investigation!

    2. They should start with “where are you from, and why did you come to Asheville” because 99% of the troublemakers among the homeless population are not originally from Asheville.

      1. Agree! They’ve thrown the welcome mat out to every homeless person feom Anywhere, USA and now we can’t take care of our own!

    3. I live a block from Lexington Ave. I have talked to several people on the street. I was told clearly that the word is out that Asheville because it is the place to panhandle , do drugs on the street and do all of the things that these poor store owners are dealing with. Parrot the Chamber of Commerce you say? Read the damn article. These are hardworking store owners and their employees that are being assaulted and having their merchandise and destroyed. Jeez.

    1. What? There’s a city manager? What city is she managing? It’s clearly not Asheville.

  7. As a relatively new resident of Asheville, I begin to wonder if I made a mistake moving here. We visited Asheville several time in the past and loved it. Now, not so much. We spend more of our times out in Hendersonville. It has become very clea that the Asheville mayor and council are in way over their heads. Hopefully, at the next elections, we residents will find competent people to serve.

      1. The incompetence of city council and lack of support for local police has been the primary cause for the current unsafe conditions downtown. The entire city council and the city manager should be replaced. Salaries for police should be increased by at least 20 percent. Above all, LET THE POLICE CHIEF run his department. Obvious mentally incompetent people should be evaluated by mental health professionals and involuntarily committed to a facility for treatment. My wife and I have lived here since 1984. We used to love the night life in the city; now we do not go downtown at night opting instead for Weaverville or northern Asheville. The decline will continue until Asheville has new leadership.

    1. Yeah we won’t be returning. The homeless people sprawled over everywhere and cornering people for money is too much. Nice restaurants though. They should move to Hendersonville or Brevard.

  8. thank you for this story. my wife and I live in leicester and stopped going downtown also. I used to have season tix for the Asheville tourists, but my wife became so scared for my safety walking to my car after the games i had to stop going. locals have been saying for years that asheville is becoming unsafe, but we were ignored. Now that tourists are calling asheville “trashville” i feel the clock has started ticking on ashevilles’ ultimate demise back to the way it looked in the 80’s. it should not have been allowed to get this way.

  9. I hope part of this series will bring attention to the serious lack of emergency shelters in Asheville/Buncombe County.

  10. Have lived in Asheville over 25 years. Before all the hotels, we used to go to Asheville every week to eat or shop. We really enjoyed the vibe the city had. Unfortunately that quickly changed with the huge increase of tourism, and the associated problems. The lack of police and the lack of will from the city officials is disturbing

  11. Maybe instead of 2 or 3 police cars at every traffic stop or cars sitting along the major thoroughfares lurking hoping to catch speeders, some of the “limited” police force could be used to prevent crime. Closing the downtown substation seems like a move to wring more money and toys out of the city. Bike cops that know what they’re doing and aren’t trying to power trip would be a better investment.
    The casual ineptitude of Asheville PD is a planned response to people expecting more from their police force and getting less.

  12. Poor people are scary!!! We need more cops to sanitize our community for the out of towners!!

    Give me a break. Sounds like a bunch of wealthy, entitled business owners bemoaning the mere existence of disadvantaged people, and demanding that they all be put behind bars. Asheville needs a serious dose of compassion before it turns into a neat and sterile little theme park for rich tourists to frequent, while no one can actually afford to live here.

    1. There exists an unhoused population in Asheville and a component of that unhoused population is criminal. Not all of the unhoused are committing crimes, but some are and they need to be held accountable.

        1. CJ, being “houseless” does not grant the right to be lawless. I’m native ashevillian and am not rich ( the preceding statement should hip you to that)> I’ve lived in Asheville city limits since 1964. I loved Asheville and was so proud of my hometown, I saw Barishnakov (Spelling?) dance at the Civic Center. I stopped going downtown 4 years ago due to the above litany of sorrow. Methinks you have some sort of axe to grind.

        2. So if they are “house less” and assault someone or steal that is immunity from being held accountable?

        3. They’re “Homeless”…I keep seeing them at intersections holding signs saying “Homeless”…So I’m going to keep calling them out of respect for what they apparently wish to be called…

    2. Taxpaying small business owners shouldn’t complain? Just sit there and take it? And hoping their customers go away won’t help, either. Prepare for boarded up businesses and plenty of vacant storefronts. That’s how this works. People blaming tourists for this? These businesses’ customers?

      We have a city council and city managers that aren’t serious about governing. That’s how we got here. How often do we even have a business person on council?

      Running cities is hard, as many American cities are finding out. It takes real leadership.

  13. I feel the need to tell another issue about downtown that is related and needs to be addressed because it is a violation of the American disabilities act. My daughter uses a power wheelchair. When attending an event at Harrahs Cherokee center or Thomas Wolfe… we always parked in the civic center parking lot and went through the walkway from the deck to haywood street. Last time we went the walkway was locked.We had to go to Rankin st, turn right and go up steep walnut st to access haywood st. I was told that the parking deck and civic center were owned by the city. The walkway is owned by the county. Due to safety concerns etc, the walkway is closed whenever the library is closed. Therefore per the library director and I quote ” there is no safe access from the deck to the street unless the library is open. We no longer park there. Actually we rarely attend an event there. I sent an email to the mayor and city council about this and never got a response. I talked to the city’s ADA coordinator who said he’d get back to me and didn’t. I could file a federal civil rights discrimination claim but it would be a long process. Another example of sweeping this problem under the rug and hurting local disabled residents instead of dealing with the issue.

    1. There is a law suite in Portland, Oregon about this issue. Folks in wheelchairs are not able to use the sidewalks due to people lying in the street.

  14. These problems extend to at least some of the city’s parking garages. I cannot park in the Rankin Ave. garage anymore because it has been taken over by homeless addicts. Not only is it unsafe at night, but even in daytime the odor and debris all over the garage are nauseating and and make walking treacherous. The elevator has been broken for over a year. To attend Sunday matinee shows at NC Stage next door I walk across town from the Aloft garage (which is now going to close for two weeks for more hotel construction). And I can no longer attend evening show which I used to do. Please have a look at this garage.

    1. I just parked there a week ago when I attended a performance at NC Stage. I didn’t notice any of these problems just as is true for the time I parked there a month ago and the time before that. I don’t know–while I agree the number of homeless are increasing and I don’t disbelieve some of the reports of lawlessness, it never seems to be as bad as “people” say when I go downtown.

  15. I didn’t do a word count but this is an over 2000 word piece on the homeless that does not interview one homeless person. The closest is a precarious bartender who used to be a sheltered homeless person. This is a hit job. Not once do you discuss the lack of housing, the obscenely rising housing cost here, the lack of resources and funding that has diminished steadily over the years for supportive services, and the decision by the city to monetize a public resource, our city center, for the profit of hoteliers and big business. Homeless people are not objects who can’t speak. They don’t appear in a vacuum. What we are experiencing in this city has everything to do with decisions in the last ten years by people in power, who are catering to big money and sold out the heart of this town. This piece is shameful and it lets down the people who live here and love it. We all deserve so much better, including those who have been forced out in the cold.

    1. This is the first in a series that will address the issues you mention. The focus of this piece was on the concerns of downtown merchants, employees and residents.

      1. But what about this piece? Whipping up fear without talking about root causes or real solutions is really disappointing, especially from this outlet. It’s dangerous to scapegoat people who have no decision making power and it plays into local far right business interests like CIBO and those who listen to them. I hope when you cover this issue for your next piece you will use different reporters.

        1. agnes, reporting on the feelings of business owners, their employees, and locals about how they see downtown is not right wing taking points. it is the reality of what they see everyday downtown. this publication is doing what it is supposed to do, bring us the story as it is with no leanings either way, just the facts. if you see right wing boogymen every where you read something you do not agree with, then you are part of the problem of why asheville is failing. their will be more parts to this story including interviews with all parties involved. please be patient as this is a complex problem that requires many parts to see the whole picture.

          1. Agree. Sadly, so many complex issues can no longer be discussed due to radical political beliefs. I retired home to Asheville over a decade ago and have worked in various capacities with the unhoused. I was pleased to see Watchdog call attention to what I have experienced clearly downtown. Before the pandemic, I worked in a downtown program two days a week-coming and going without ever feeling unsafe. I also frequented downtown shops, restaurants, salons and religious services. I no longer feel safe doing so- for all the reasons mentioned by downtown workers. Just voting those on council out isn’t going to solve this problem. So very tired of the politics at play here as opposed to serious acceptance of the complexities our community and indeed country are facing. It’s hard to get one’s head around! I find hope in Watchdog’s coverage, and hope our community can begin to come together in addressing the existential problem/s it is facing. I do remember downtown in the late 70’s and early 80’s! What a tragedy to see this happening again!

      2. I am also confused why you would not interview a single homeless person for this story, or any sort of expert that can speak of some of the reasons why we got here. I understand it’s a series but as a journalist, I know it’s bad form to only give voice to one side. Many may only read this one article, and leave with a very partial understanding of the situation. And I don’t go downtown often because it’s overrun by tourists, not because of the homeless situation. This story has potential, but I would expect a more fair and balanced take from the watchdogs.

        1. Regardless of your intentions for this series, local right wing leaders are sharing this piece gleefully (somehow I doubt they’ll share the follow up piece promised, though). And it’s obvious why, it’s the perfect tool to use as a cudgel to extract more money for law enforcement —or whatever neoliberal to fascist fast track nonsense will continue to not work in this town—because it’s all fear mongering with no balance and no grounding in the question “why”. Even the way you put this out on your mailing list using clickbaity shock language shows you’re cognizant of this. Incredibly irresponsible for this outlet, in a time when the wagons are circling to add more harm on top of deep suffering here, you helped them circle.

          I might feel differently if J Boyle’s coverage in the past on issues involving the unhoused had been adequate or even mediocre but it hasn’t. He is a dull instrument here and the wrong reporter to cover these issues.

    2. As a renter who has experienced 100 percent rent increase since 2017 I agree non-homeowners can organize differently. At the same time when I asked APD for panhandling, trespassing, and vagrancy arrest/citations over a decade ago I think people like Rev. Cantrell took that data and turned Asheville into a sanctuary zone where everyone in crisis and with criminality comes.

      This place can go from sanctuary zone to sacrifice zone in a matter of days if enough criminals outnumber the rest of us. That ratio already puts APD on the losing side of the equation if we inventory repeat offenders.

    3. Reporting on the suffering of the homeless has been plentiful by WLOS and the Citizen’s Times. Finally, a series about how the out of control crisis is impacting the vast majority of us who live, work, and pay our taxes here. I suggest we stop calling the drug addicts and criminals disadvantaged people. Not all are addicts and criminals but many are.

  16. Asheville needs to stop with the ultra left vibe you want to project and clean up the damn city. It’s disgusting. All of Asheville is becoming a Pit of Despair under the watch of this mayor and council as the houseless flood Asheville from literally everywhere and we pay outside consultants to tell us to build more and more shelters. That’s not working. They won’t use the existing shelters we have. And they continue to roll in daily because Asheville rolls out the welcome mat of tents and needles and panhandling on every corner.

    1. Hopefully the next installment looks into why the homeless would rather take their chances outside and sleep on the sidewalks or behind some brush than stay at these shelters. The lack of a trained police presence (Cowboys drooling to beat some heads in and hassling visitors would do more harm than good) and social services affects the peaceful homeless too.

      1. Most turn down a bed in the shelters because they don’t want to change their behavior that shelters don’t and can’t, allow.

  17. Please also investigate the city parking garages. The one on Rankin Ave. houses homeless addicts and and the odor and debris are overwhelming. Elevator has been broken for over a year. I cannot park there anymore and walk across town to attend matinee performances at NC Stage next door. Too dangerous to attend evening performances.

  18. I once took my 3 year old grandson to the Asheville Museum of Science on Patton. Upon leaving at 5pm, we had to side step a sleeping homeless person that took up residence in the foyer…I will never take him downtown again until this issue is rectified.

  19. “ reported a man and a woman who stole a $475 lamp from her store” and “One of the thieves later returned to retrieve a cell phone she left behind”. Here’s downtown.

  20. Great reporting- keep it up. Asheville is headed to what has become of San Francisco. A place where you’re either rich or you’re on the street.

  21. Last year I saw a homeless and inebriated man waving a hatchet around downtown, so of course called 911. I waited in a distant doorway for the cops, who took 30 minutes to arrive. They had a quick chat with the guy, some laughs, and left without ever getting out of the car. THEY DIDN’T CONFISCATE THE HATCHET. That was the last time I went downtown at night. Insanity.

  22. As a 22-year resident of Asheville, I can confirm that residents stopped going downtown, even before these issues surfaced. It started when tourism and all the development, lack of parking, expensive restaurants—everything the tourism umbrella covers—became more important than those of us who call this home, pay taxes, and all with the blessing of city leadership, the Chamber of Commerce, and the TDA. You got us into this mess; you wouldn’t listen to our cries of “Enough!” The businesses you need to make your tourism dream a reality are finding it too difficult to exist in a dangerous downtown. What are you going to do to get our city back on its feet?

    1. Downtown has sucked for years. Not enough parking, not enough lighting, and needs a fresh coat of paint. All these businesses want to open up in the parts of town that are coasting downhill and then wonder why they died on the vine.

    2. Yes, you’ve correctly identified the root cause of it all. Can’t say we haven’t been pleading for the past few years to slow the advertising till we get our home back in order.

  23. Thank you for covering this very serious growing problem. Thanks to business owners downtown for speaking out. (Please pay attention to business owners on Charlotte Street, Merrimon Avenue and Tunnel Road. They are experiencing the same uptick.) We need to increase APD salaries and benefits to be competitive enough to hire back the missing 42% of the missing police force. We will hire a few and then we lose some. They leave to other cities where they are paid more, have better retirement benefits and it’s more affordable to live.

  24. We moved here in 1990 after working for a rafting company in Bryson City. Our child was getting ready to start the 1st grade and thought we were making the correct decision to move to Asheville for a better education. Downtown had many closed stores but we never felt unsafe going downtown to our favorite restaurants. Before moving here we would come to Asheville on our days off and really enjoyed coming here. We don’t go downtown anymore due to the problems we are having downtown. What a shame the city leaders have sold their soul to the wealthy.

  25. Superb reporting. I echo readers’ comments about the level of non-response by our Mayor. Remember this Mayor led the decision to sell Mission to HCA. Yes there have been cycles, but the last one was in the 1980’s and early 90’s when the downtown was shuttered and dangerous. Pioneers like Hector Diaz’s Salsa helped reopen the downtown and it has grown steadily since then.

  26. So glad this problem is finally being addressed!!. I moved here in 1997, my husband’s office was in the BB&T building (now the beautiful, Art Deco Aris hotel), we loved Asheville then!! I was teaching at a Buncombe county school, enjoyed every Friday of meeting downtown for dinner, entertainment, enjoying walking through the shops.
    NOW! I am retired from teaching, and for the last 7 years have enjoyed being a tour guide and sharing my love of Asheville with visitors, until the last 2 years, the joy and beauty is gone!!
    Two separated occasions I have had groups of 60 – 100+ people dining at different restaurants. On each occasion my guest were planning to stay downtown after dinner and enjoy the night life. Both times there were ‘protest’ going on at Pack Square and the protesters were blocking the streets (which is against the law!) and hollering at my guest. I was unable to get my bus to the restaurant to pick my guest up, had to walk them over a block away to the bus, all the time being harassed by the protesters!! NO POLICE in sight!! Needless to say NOT ONE guest stayed downtown to party. So, financially Asheville lost anywhere from $5,000 – 10,000 in revenue, not to mention the shopping trip I had planned for the next day was canceled!
    This is just one example I have encountered. I have shared these and other incidents with the city, my company, and Explore Asheville, to no avail.
    I love Asheville, but people are not going to come downtown to be harassed and assaulted by trash, drugs, and beggars.
    Clean it up Asheville, or lose it! Very sad!

  27. Sally/John – I know this is the “set up” piece laying out the situation and there will be a series behind this. But if this is the crises you portray (and spending time downtown and talking to owners/workers, I think it is as well), then I’d like to see crises response/triage to the situation. Even with a reduced force, why haven’t the police focused on the downtown area? What does it take to make it a priority? We have a $217m budget – how can we direct some funds to this issue? Roll up security doors (like El Paso)? More lights? A morning clean-up crew? What’s legal, permissible and desired? With all the funding the TDA puts back into the community, can/should they fund any of this? Literally, billions of pixels have been spent on homelessness, affordability, drug use, etc. There are so many layers to that challenge – all worthy of being addressed – but we’re at the “fixing the broken window” part of our community’s evolution.

    1. COA and BCG policy has changed incrementally over a decade. It’s hard to assess in one swoop, but the noise ordinance is an example of saying, “There’s some low number of APD officers. Let’s drive strategy towards the lowest number we can get to as quickly as possible.” Does anyone ask about unintended consequences in advance? Well, at least we see what not to do. And it is about system transformation versus just paying APD staff as much as the city manager eventually… because fewer young people want to do public service in the current state of affairs.

  28. The voters of Asheville continue to reelect the same politicians who let the town get in this situation. H. L. Mencken apparently had it right:
    “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

  29. Here’s the thing. You same people complaining elected these “leaders” because they agree with your socialist agenda. Never mind they have no ability to run a multi million dollar business like the City. Despite watching Asheville circle the drain. Most of you will vote for these same folks for the same reasons. Your getting what you voted for. Seriously, you didn’t see this coming?

  30. I’ve been in Asheville for 25 years. I used to love going downtown, but now I never go. It’s scary, dirty, and dangerous now. Asheville was once one of the greatest small cities in the country, but now it’s ruined. And of course, the whole area has become out of control.

  31. Many longtime residents and businesses are considering where they should move. The mountains are beautiful but the city is a trashy dump with half a police force, an insanely bad hospital, terrible streets, homeless panhandling everywhere and expensive housing. The city is working hard at adding bike lanes though.

  32. This isn’t a simple, black-and-white issue, or an either/or problem, and treating it as such is a mistake. If we do the compassionate thing and offer more “services” for street people with mental illness and addiction (as we should), the problems will abate…somewhat. Then word will spread that free help is available here, and more people with similar issues will head this way – because other cities are not offering any such thing.
    Increase enforcement of existing laws with an added police presence (as we should), and the problems will also ease to some degree, because the problem population will be pushed out of town…until they hear it’s safe, again. Then they’ll return, and the sick cycle continues.
    None of this changes the source of the problem: wages for honest labor these days won’t cover basic living expenses. Housing is quite literally unaffordable, food is crazy expensive, and don’t even try to afford a vehicle and insurance or health care and insurance or tuition for school or…
    And if you believe this is all because of “inflation” instead of corporate greed, you’re just another sucker.
    Read your history books; this is nothing new. Capitalism is a twisted, unsustainable system for everyone but the top predators. They’ll take and take and take until there is no more to take. Then the rest of the population will do what they have to do to take back the share they need to survive. And it always, always ends ugly…

  33. It’s cheaper to house homeless people than it is to pay police to arrest them.

    More police isn’t the answer.

    It’s astounding to me that people think more police is the answer.

    This article is fear mongering against a vulnerable population that have less resources.

    1. After reading the numerous instances of shoplifting, violent confrontations with shopkeepers and their staff, the repeated presence of drunk and drugged out people in front of businesses and the presence of urine and feces in public places, it is obvious that the homeless are a real and growing threat to public safety. It also endangers the livelihood of small business owners. It is true that while not all homeless people engage in this kind of behavior, too many do. City Council’s permissive attitude is making the problem worse. It is past time for firm and effective leadership; the current city council including the City Manager should be replaced.

  34. I think this is putting the emphasis in the wrong place. Homelessness, panhandling, growing crime are not so much destroying the city as they are a consequence of a city that’s being destroyed by mass tourism. Check out the work of Martin Sauer, an economist with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). He has studied why mass tourism destroys urban cores. It raises rents, pushes out locals, unique local businesses are replaced with trinket and t-shirt shops, and for reasons not fully understood, it creates a rise in crime,vagrancy, homelessness. Tourists become the object of local resentment. When mass tourism destroys an urban culture and authenticity, as it has in Asheville, Sauer calls the phenomenon the equivalent of ‘a snake eating it’s own tail.’ The cities where a tourist economy works well are the ones where it also improves the lives of locals. For an example of where it was done right look at the leadership model of former mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston, who became the longest serving mayor in the country.

    1. To add a point, our problem is made worse by the fact that tourism here is based on alcohol consumption. That last time we were leaving downtown after dinner out, a young woman her leg in a cast, jaywalking and obviously drunk, almost stumbled into our car. We didn’t see her coming, but slammed on the breaks and when realized she was in the middle of traffic, she smashed the hood of our car with her crutch. She appeared to be a tourist, perhaps a local, but not a homeless person.

      1. Many good points and tourism (and the massive marketing campaign) is a major component that has gotten us here. The TDA loves to build amusement parks, but they do nothing to safeguard them. I really hope many many tourists read the truth about Asheville and decide to go elsewhere. We need to get our home in order before inviting extra guests. Please tourists, stay away and help us Kill Tourism.

        1. Lots of closed businesses downtown is not going to help the situation. Think no one wants to go downtown now? Wait until there’s no reason for anyone to go there. Prepare for your taxes to go up and problems to get even worse.

          1. There would be lots of reasons to go downtown if there were fewer tourists. We’ve had a population explosion here, and many businesses would thrive, and many new ones would appear. Tourists also must be held to the same standards as residents, and I’m still perturbed about the Florida visitors who OD’ed at the Grove Park Inn (and drained our limited resources) and were not charged. Not even a statement by the Mayor saying that drug-addicts from elsewhere are not welcome. Shame on the Mayor, shame on the TDA, and shame on all local news outlets for not following up on that story.

      2. For some reason I don’t think the intoxicated woman in the cast is who these downtown workers are speaking of concerning theft and assault

  35. Appears the local government in Asheville is useless. Apparently so is their police department. There is absolutely no excuse for Asheville to look as it looks now. Asheville is a ‘tourist-dependent’ city and once anyone reads this article, travel plans which were made to come to Asheville will soon cancel. So sad, because for so long Asheville was a fine town, with lots to do, and everyone could feel safe. Not so anymore. Better get on the stick government leaders and get this issue straightened out before it’s too late and the tourists take their money elsewhere

  36. Holy crap what a disgusting article! How many paragraphs about houselessness and NOT A SINGLE ONE addresses the actual causes of this issue. Every paragraph is just another insult, another rationalization, another dehumanization of people who are suffering.

    It doesn’t matter if other parts of this series will talk to actual homeless people (and how about talking the several local organizations who are doing the compassionate work of taking care of those who are most vulnerable?). Your intent with this series is clear from this introduction. This is a battle between those who are privileged enough to have a roof over their head and those who are living and dying in the elements, and you’ve made your position clear by how you’ve used this soapbox.

    1. CJ, respectfully, the mindset you display is exactly how it was allowed to get this bad. Please open up your home and give them housing.

      1. I would but I don’t own a home, I rent. In fact, most people do not own property and have to rent!

        But please, Lee, explain what is exactly about my comment that “allowed it to get this bad”. Because I don’t see it.

        What I see is that we are not doing enough to take care of our community, and it shows! Reacting with calls for violence and punishment is not the way to rectify the issue.

        Maybe the journalists here will explore in future installments of this series the research done on costs of housing people vs criminalizing them, or on the research about what best helps people suffering from mental illnesses and addiction (Hint: it’s stability, housing).

        1. yep, but the housing instability has been caused largely by tourism and excessive marketing…charming cabins that used to be $500/month now go for $300/night…lots of less expensive places in the world to live.

  37. First thank you for doing this investigative work. Anyone strolling through downtown can easily experience the impact brought about by the numerous individuals trying to survive on the streets. This situation is not limited to the downtown area as mentioned in some of the comments. It expands throughout the city. There is hardly any major interstate exit or intersection that doesn’t have someone with signs asking for money.
    This situation is not only dangerous but is also a major issue for our City.
    So who specifically is or can be made to be
    directly accountable with a holistic plan with specific steps to address the situation.
    Folks responding to your article have called out the City Management, the TDA, the Downtown Commission, and others for action.
    But where is the ONE consolidated action plan? And where and how can we as citizens actively participate?
    As part of your investigation, can you also identify and describe all the relevant organizations who are attempting to address all the issues and how they are or are not working together. I’m ready, as a Asheville resident to help….just need to see a holistic plan with specific steps and expected outcomes. Where is that plan?

  38. American Liberal Democracy needs a strategic refresh. We can be more Scandinavian without trying to be Cuba or PRC.

    1. Theres literally no homeless people in Cuba because housing is guranteed. Theres many problems there but homelessness is not one of them. My partner who moved here from Cuba was shocked that anyone could be homeless. It broke his heart that this could happen even in the richest country in the world.

  39. Of course one can’t generalize and state that the problem has only one root cause. It doesn’t. And solutions should embrace diverse options.

    However, there could be a outsized contributor, esp. in West Asheville: as of last count, in zip code 28806, there were at least (a few online searches will confirm) 15 transition homes for drug and other addictions JUST within a two-mile radius of Vermont Ave. and Haywood Rd. FIFTEEN that I have counted. Most of them have capacity for 6-8 people each.

    What is the recidivism of those temporary residents who resume their drug use because they get kicked out? Where do they get kicked out? Onto our streets. Where do they resume their drug use? On our streets. Where do they live? On our streets.

    Occam’s razor might be a good way to examine root causes.

    If Asheville’s citizens are going to support non-citizen recovery, how are these transition systems being held accountable for their possible contribution to this problem?

  40. Sometimes you have grab the bull by the tail and look at the future, for our destiny will decline if we don’t change.

    Much like doing a good turn for birds with feeding station, it feels good, it leads to congregation of numbers along with disease and illness. So too is our centralized benevolence for the homeless.

    We are several assaults, rapes and murders away from having a destitute downtown; a pariah within many other tourist destinations.

    What do you want? There are choices, pay now or pay later.

  41. Thanks for taking on this topic in a meaningful way. Anyone who cares about quality of life here can see changes that benefit no one. I look forward to reading the series as it unfolds and in particular to the examples of success stories in other cities that may help us create a way forward that respects residents and provides a multi-pronged safety net for disenfranchised folk so that our local economy can thrive in ways that benefit us all. What I do know is that any successful approach to turn the tide will require not just the opinions but actual efforts of the majority of those who love this city. Asheville has a history of success at this very action. I’m sure there were nay-sayers in the 80’s, too. Thankfully, the negatively engendered did not win the day. We have a legacy to build on, folks, if we are willing.

  42. Thank you for reporting on what’s happened and happening to our once amazing city. I grew up here but lived in several different cities after college. I always came back four times a year to visit family and never missed going downtown. Then, with the ability to work remotely, I returned to live here over two years ago. Sadly, I am one of the locals who now will no longer go downtown. Something about the strong smell of urine, feces, trash, needles and stepping over drug addicts, has killed my desire. It’s also bad on Tunnel Road and all along the Swannanoa River Road where there are stores and businesses. I wonder if we have already reached the tipping point and ruined what was once special about this place. It’s real easy to get a bad reputation but very hard to turn it around.

    1. We’re already at or past the tipping point. I dream of the day I see this Portland wannabe dump of a city in my rearview mirror. If it were next week it wouldn’t be soon enough.

  43. Thank the good Lord someone has reported on Downtown! I’ve known Susan Marie Phipps was leaving for well over a year. She is a great jeweler and business owner. We have lost a real treasure. But what she has put up with and been through I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. My husband and I used to go downtown a lot – even for breakfast. Not any more. Now our daughter works downtown on Patton Ave. she has to walk a block or two to her parking garage and has seen a lot of what’s mentioned in this article.
    I didn’t vote in the last election because I couldn’t vote for Manheimer and this city council and didn’t see anyone I could vote for.
    Keep up the good work – this article is long over due!

  44. It’s fair to question the framing of Part I of this series as laying out a problem without some comment from the street people. And Kit Cramer is quoted. She’s someone who’s been paid for decades via orgs funded with tourism money. Is she willing for some of that money to go somewhere besides funding more cops?
    Her advocacy in Raleigh would go a long way, if so.

  45. Great reporting -can’t wait for the rest. Once again this organization tells it like it is. I have no answers for the problems we face, but do remember late 80’s when so little flourished downtown and there were not the issues we now face. Then City sold it’s soul to the developers and tourists, thus I have not frequented downtown for several years except maybe to pick up an order to go from a restaurant.
    The Last Resort by Don Henley could be about Asheville and the last stanza unfortunately fits – hey call it paradise I don’t know why You call someplace paradise Kiss it goodbye

  46. This “investigation” is atrocious journalism. Asking a bunch of business owners for their opinions is not an investigation, it is a biased and harmful opinion piece. Asheville Watchdog should be ashamed for running this.

    Even the title of the article is stigmatizing. “Vagrant” promotes the false narrative that people living on the streets have descended upon Asheville from elsewhere, which ignores the actual stats showing that most of the unhoused people lived here and had housing before being put on the streets.

    The article continues playing to this false narrative, drawing a link between an increase in unhoused people to locals not hanging out downtown anymore. Do you see how this is dehumanizing? How you’ve taken a group of people who LIVE DOWNTOWN and made them no longer count as part of the population? Only the tourists and the business people in this story seem to count as humans.

    Furthermore, the linkage is just silly. Most locals I know don’t hang out downtown because it’s too expensive and it is catered to tourists. Locals have been being drivin out of downtown for a long time, and it’s not because of unhoused people, it’s because locals are not profitable to the businesses (aside from as cheap, exploitable labor). The quote from the owner of the Wienhouse in the article even goes against this argument; he stated that he feels safe but that locals aren’t coming downtown as much as they used to. The article just ignores that and keeps it moving with the argument they have already decided to make.

    To explain where I’m coming from, I’ve lived here nearly my whole life and for much of that I have lived and worked in our around downtown. I worked downtown up until this past year and had to find employment elsewhere because I could no longer afford the depressed Asheville wages. I walked around downtown all the time, both during the day and at night when it’s dark. I never felt unsafe and the dirtiness is so extremely exaggerated–it’s like these people have never spent time in a real city.

    The a priori solution offered by this piece is more police, presumably to simply drive the unhoused population to other parts of town. The police budget continues to go up and up every year while there’s insignificant investment in alternatives. Why is there no mention of the housing crisis in this article? If they can’t hire enough cops, despite the majority of the city’s budget going to the police department, why take some of that money and use it for housing for the people who are living on the streets?

    John Boyle has a stigmatizing coverage of the unhoused population in his writing. I was afraid this would happen to Asheville Watchdog when he was brought on as paid staff, and it’s a real shame because this outlet was doing good work before. This kind of stigmatizing propaganda is going to hurt an already vulnerable population, for what? So some business owners can push their problems off on someone else?

    Short of a public denunciation of this article, I will certainly not be patronizing Susan Marie Designs, We’re Off to See the Wizard, Dog and Pony Show, Asheville Discount Pharmacy, Bouchon, McGuire Wood & Bissette, Urban Outfitters, Madame Clutterbuckets Neurodiverse Universe, Ten Thousand Villages, Salsa’s, Pepper Palace, Melting Pot, or Kingdom Harvest Wellness Dispensary and More, or any other businesses that contribute to pieces like this going forward.

    1. Thank you, Jerry! I’d comment but you said it all so well! This gross and unfortunate rant is not close to a real investigation. This is simply a sad display of stigmatizing language and those with vilifying those without. Not to mention the overwhelming lack of real solution to issues such as the lack of housing and increase in drug related deaths in the community, but I guess those are not issues the writer and those interviewed find important.

      1. elle, this is only the first part of a series. all parties involved in this complex problem will have a say in future installments.

    2. Your “actual stats” showing the homeless population are local are garbage stats collected by local activists using methodology they know will create the false narrative. Maybe you don’t know this and fall for their propaganda, or maybe you do and just repeat the garbage because it paints the picture you want.

      They ask “where were you last housed in any capacity” and count that as where someone is “from”. So Joe is homeless in Greenville and hears that there are better services and fewer cops and a DA that drops all the charges if you are homeless and just don’t show up for court so they come to Asheville. They get a little bit of money and rent a hotel for a week. Using the standard the activists use of “where were you last housed” that week they had in a hotel counts as “housed” and they are considered “local”.

      Most of the homeless population in Asheville are not from Asheville, even if they were temporarily “housed” here via a brief hotel stay or crashing on someones couch.

      You if don’t believe me, look for real data yourself. Go look up the voter registration data for Buncombe County and the 430 people all claiming 19 N Ann Sr (the AHOPE Day Center) as their residence. Then simply start using easily available public records to check them out and see where they are from using the data available on the voter registration rolls. You will find very few have roots in Buncombe County, and the majority have recent residences and/or criminal history outside Buncombe County.

      For another interesting data point, look up all the registered sex offenders in zip 28801. There are 77. 33 have their residence listed as “homeless”. Over half of those are registered as a result of convictions outside Buncombe County. That is a couple of very telling and interesting data points.

      Over the last 3 years I have had to have the police called due to theft or vandalism or trespassing at my business over a dozen times, all involving the homeless. As a person who likes information I pay attention to the names on the police reports and research. Out of 16 people, 14 were not local. 12 had criminal history outside Buncombe County. 6 had outstanding arrest warrants from other states, but those states wouldn’t extradite, so APD can’t do anything about the outstanding warrants. These experiences caused me to do even more research, and that is when I learned how they collect the bogus “all the homeless are local” data the activists tout and the real facts about the origins of the homeless population in Asheville. Its not hardworking locals priced out of homes, as the politicians and activists suggest. It is largely people from outside Asheville who don’t work, don’t want to work, and migrate to the place where living that lifestyle is as easy as possible. Where there is a lax city government, understaffed police, DA’s who don’t prosecute, and a plethora of services making the choice easy handing out as much free food, tents, clothes or anything else they want.

    3. jerry, you refer to stats showing most homeless live in this area. please direct us to these numbers. i am more than happy to read this info to be better informed of if they come here from elsewhere or live here. i honestly have not seen these stats and want to know more.

      1. Hi Bob, I’m referring to numbers presented from the PIT Homelessness Survey data presented to City Council on May 10, 2022. If you look up “City Council Meeting – May 10, 2022” on YouTube and go to the 23 minute mark you can find this part. One of the questions they asked people is where they last had housing.

        57.8% percent answered that they last had housing in Asheville and 13.3% in WNC, so that’s 71.1% of people having had housing around the area before they became homeless.

        Here is a link to the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NGIKdy5BN8&t=1406s

        1. That is a BS metric for determining who is local. First, it depends on the voluntary statement of people who often will tell people whatever they think will get them the most sympathy. Second, “where did you last have housing” includes if they had a hotel room or crashed on someone couch for a few days.

          If a homeless person from Greenville comes to Asheville and gets enough money to get a hotel room for a week under this metric they would count as “local”.

  47. Firstly right off the bat I do not like the “teaser” in the email saying something like “what they say will shock you.” Do you really need to have that kind of preface for your stories? Just do the great reporting that you are doing without the sensationalist preface.
    Secondly.. I worked in a locked psychiatric ward in the 80’s and I see so many of these behaviors on our streets today. When I moved here in the 90’s there were TWO fully functioning psychiatric hospitals here. I am in no way condoning locking up the homeless and mentally ill. But we must look at what those places provided – a bed – food – drug monitoring – therapy. How much of that is provided today for folks on the streets experiencing many of those same illnesses? Perhaps along side of increased police presence, we need more allies and support systems.. on the street.. for those experiencing mental illness. When those hospitals closed – where did everyone go? Were they still supported in a different way with continuous med checks – therapy – housing??? Minimally. Maybe you should talk with the people that are doing the work for organizations such as RHA. Please talk with the folks that serve the mentally ill and see what they have to say about their daily interactions with our street citizens and the need that is so great.

    1. Joan,
      What you have witnessed and desribed is a good chunk of the problem. The great state of NC washed its hands of dealing with the mentally ill and dumped it on the towns and cities. Regional mental health facilities would be a sizable part of the solution (not the whole part mind you). Citizens and local officials rail at each other for solutions when in fact, citizens and local officials all over the state concerned about and dealing with this same problem should all converge on Raleigh and demand they divert money for this purpose. Someone needs to organize this.
      We could live with less perfect roads? We don’t have to have all this landscaping on our highways.. Even the agricultural department in this state is bloated and could have budget money diverted. Priorities?

  48. Hopefully the investigative reporters will get a discussion started about law enforcement as a whole. Police officers are a fraction of that process. If lawbreakers are punished with the maximum allowed, yet recidivism still is unacceptable, maybe lawmakers need to be engaged as well.

  49. I have been a business owner downtown for 18 years, and we have had less than a handful of problems from the unhoused in that time. In recent years, we once had feces and needles in the back of our business that we had to clean up and had a mentally ill man masturbating in our entryway. We had a couple of instances back around 2008 with a tweaked out person and some shoplifting during Bele Chere. I do believe the city should build more shelters, hire some more police, and steam clean the streets on a regular basis. I admire the work that you do at the Watchdog, but I feel that this article may misrepresent the majority of business owners’ experiences.

  50. Sounds like downtown needs 24-hr public restrooms and a needle exchange. And you know what will solve homelessness? Affordable housing. (Fun fact: when someone is unhoused and must defecate outside, the waste almost always ends up in the ground due to the law of gravity.)

    1. When someone doesn’t work and has no desire to work housing can be as “affordable” as the cheapest place in the country and it won’t matter.

    2. There are a great many homeless/unhoused/resident non-taxpayers (whatever we’re calling them today, it’s getting bloody hard to keep up) who will benefit from housing assistance. There are a great many who will only take advantage (and who have been drawn to Asheville for that reason (plus live music and beer). I would welcome (some) as neighbors, but others would be completely terrifying to have living next door. It’s time to being this frank conversation.

  51. Seems like many people have many complaints about the city council (here, NextDoor, Citizen-Times); is anyone doing anything about starting a campaign for new council candidates to replace the current ones? None that I’ve heard anything about. Easy to complain; is anyone ready to do something? I’ll help but couldn’t run ’cause I’m too old and planning to solve my concerns about Asheville by leaving!

  52. I’m sure there are exceptions, but by and large, drug addicts steal everything they can get their hands on, destroy things and create an awful mess wherever they go, make everyone around them miserable in one way or another, and just generally lose their humanity. I guess a few of them “recover” from addiction, but I’ve never personally known, or known of, a single one. If word is out in the addicted community that Asheville is the place to go, which all evidence points to (above), I think it might be too late. Close up shop and move on.

    1. Yes, agreed. I have an addict in my family. Everyone helped him out of jams for years and now I have not seen him in 14 years. I would not want him on my property or as a neighbor. I would not want him to be given affordable housing in this town. I would not wish him off as a neighbor on anyone. So…some ‘unhoused’ humans will benefit from a hand up (and deserve help), others will just continue to con the world and destroy. The unhoused population is just like the housed population–unique and/or dysfunctional in their own ways. There really should be a way to divide them up and inflict some tough love. We could say: “Stand over here if you want help and if you want to get back on track. Stand over there if you don’t.”

  53. Welcome to the new Asheville, where police are the bad guys, drug addicts run rampant with freedom to break our laws, while ruining the downtown our parents fought so hard to bring back. All in the name of justice?!?! Yeah, let’s reward people for doing the wrong thing, that makes sense. While the hardworking people who make this town what it is are completely ignored by our local officials, who live in some alternate progressive reality where we focus on the needs of the people who don’t wanna get help, they wanna get high.

  54. If the present admin can’t handle the situation get someone in there who can. How long do the Asheville citizens have to put up with this total incompetence. So damn disgusting. In business if you can not or do not. perform your duties you are terminated. Should lethargic or inept gov’t employees not be held to the same standards. Apparently not as we continue to spiral into the abyss. Surprising city officials can look at themselves in the mirror.

  55. Weren’t the mayor and bulk of city council just given a vote of approval for their handling of downtown issues in November. Elections have consequences.

  56. Have reservations in April at B&B and two highly-acclaimed restaurants, all in downtown Asheville. Should I plan on canceling and going somewhere else? Don’t particularly want to expose my family to a war zone.

    1. Sorry. It’s still a beautiful area, and many residents/activists are fighting like hell to clean neighborhoods, stave off bad developments, get their voices heard over the hoteliers and the homeless, and try to get the far right and the far left closer to center. Hope it works out if you visit, won’t blame you if don’t.

  57. If the DA would prosecute these homeless criminals to the fullest extent of the law, these people would get all the social benefits they need to succeed; Shelter, Food, Healthcare, Mental Healthcare, Education and Job Skills Training. What more could you ask for as a low life scum bag? ZERO empathy for criminals. LOCK THEM UP, takes them off our streets. It’s called the deterrence factor. Weak shouldn’t survive… never has with any living being.

  58. I think this initial article in the series could have greatly benefitted from more crime statistics and contextualization. The experiences, stories, and anecdotes from business owners and workers are fine, but it seems like more concrete numbers and facts should have been included. The section that mentions 994 calls in just over two years per the 9-1-1 call log was a nice touch, but that’s where the statistics began and also where they ended. Some questions off the top of my head: how do the number of crimes compare to, say, the last ten years? Which crimes are increasing and decreasing, and by how much? Are the numbers even reliable if the police are not doing their job (as some of the quotes in the story seem to suggest)? Hopefully the other stories in this series will cover that, but it does seem like a mistake to leave it out of the first story as this article may be the one that gets the most attention and therefore will have the longest lasting impression on readers.

    1. If I remember right, Asheville was cited in National news as having increasing crime rate. I forge t what news outlet it was.

    2. There is a problem of being over reliant on data, however, because it can not tell the full tale.

      For example, what metric do you use to measure crime?

      Convictions? Well we have a DA who flat out dismisses or drops every charge in some categories and has admitted if a person is suspected of being homeless and doesn’t show up for court they just dismiss the charges.

      So if you used that metric the data would tell you that there isn’t any public urination or intoxication in Asheville because the DA drops 100% of those charges.

      So use arrests or citations? But with APD 40% down they can’t get to all the crimes reported. And when they know the DA will just drop a charge they figure why bother with all the paperwork. So that’s not an accurate metric either, the drop in APD staffing means they can make fewer arrests and issue fewer citations even if crime is up.

      Reports? That’s a flimsy standard to use, even if everything else is going well in a town. Because lots of things get called in to the police that are not actually crimes. But it’s even worse to use when you have a situation like Asheville has now, a lot of people don’t even bother calling to repair crimes any longer because they know nothing will come of their call.

      So you can look at data, but you have to avoid over reliance on it because in a situation like we have in Asheville a number of factors can make the data not reflect the reality on the ground.

  59. Well Asheville decide what you want. You, your votes and city council liked defunding the police and running them off. Wouldn’t common sense tell you this is what would happen without police. With tourism being the largest industry in Asheville, we’re now in big trouble

    1. For the record, the police have not been defunded. They’re currently understaffed and trying to recruit. But, given that Asheville continues to tout itself as a ‘tourist town’ rather than a place that values Resident Taxpayers First (and given the fact that most of our resources are squandered policing visitors and the unhoused, and given the fact that salaries are low and home prices high (due largely to Asheville being a ‘tourist town’), it’s going to be a long while before our police force is back to capacity.

  60. I’ve lived in Asheville for 12 years, and I, too, have seen it change a lot. I’ve seen people displaced and priced out by a housing market that’s out of control — disfigured by the greed and short-term thinking of market logic, tacitly backed by the laissez-faire attitude of local politicians. I’ve watched the City do nothing over the past decade to ameliorate these conditions; to the contrary, it has only courted more and more outside investment dollars to pump the luxury housing and short-term rental market, while intensifying attacks on anyone who is down on their luck, or just plain not rich (remember when some Council members tried to secretly introduce an ordinance outlawing sharing food in public, and then lied about it, and then got caught in the lie? Classic).

    This city has wasted a disgraceful amount of time, money, and effort criminalizing poverty, paying consultants to tell us what we already know, and prosecuting individuals who dare to advocate for the most vulnerable.

    And then, adding insult to injury, here comes John Boyle with this appalingly cruel piece of propoganda. Listen, I get it: folks working downtown have to deal with some things that are legitimately unpleasant and inconvenient (no one likes cleaning up poop and blood!), and in a few instances, truly dangerous. I empathize with their situation, and I’d be interested in CONSTRUCTIVE discussion of what could be done to help improve things for everyone involved–but that “everyone” must include EVERYONE–not just the slice of humanity who look and live a certain way and have a certain net worth.
    We have to go beyond gut reaction and question the why and how of this situation. We can’t allow visceral reactions to salacious details to obscure the humanity of people painted here as villains. For instance, when you read that shopkeepers have cleaned up “adult diapers” from their alcoves, do you go “Ew! That’s gross!” and leave it at that? Or do you let it sink in what that actually means: that someone who is so ill they are incontinent is living outside?

    After an unprecendented global trauma like a pandemic, with all of its attendant social, economic and political dislocations, is it really such a surprise that people are having a hard time? When these things take a toll on folks who were already struggling in our little mountain dystopia, the response should be collective care, creative leveraging of public and mutual aid resources, and critical dialogue about how to move toward a society that can respond resiliently and humanely to crisis. The solutions won’t be simple or immediate, but we know–from a mountain of empiricle evidence and a pinch of common sense–that solutions MUST involve access to resources and WON’T involve more cops and prisons.

    This is pretty basic stuff, folks. If AVL Watch Dog can present this kind of unhinged, hysterical fear-mongering so openly, we’ve got a lot more to be worried about than some poo on the sidewalk…

  61. Suggestion for our reporters: although you state this article is the first of a series, you may wish to disclose what the main topics are for the other segments. For example:
    1. Intro and comments from downtown storekeepers
    2. Stats on homeless population….demographics, where they are from, number of truly homeless, number of mental cases
    3. Interviews with homeless people
    4. Interviews with police
    5. What have other cities done?
    6. What are resources here. Why do some homeless refuse help.
    I think if you lay out a potential plan for the series, this would address many of the criticisms.
    Thank you for tackling a challenging issue.

  62. This is an excellent article. As an Asheville native, I ‘m disgusted at the lawlessness that has overrun Asheville. Going downtown is dangerous. We need republican candidates that are likable to restore law and order here.

    I also appreciate the AVL watchdog bringing us the truth. This area needs a respected news source that isn’t full of fluff.

    1. well there you go… we’ve got John Boyle ..previously with the Citizen-Times where his lame as it gets “my smart-aleck replies and the real answers” shtick ..that would only pass for any sort of journalism in provincial Asheville ..now schilling for the Asheville Watchdog. And now we have this “article” ..with its shrieking headline that sounds like it was written for FOX NEWS… in fact, I’m quite sure this will be on FOX within 72 hours… Congrats Watchdog! …sigh. And yeah, for sure.. if can only get some good solid “likable” republican candidates for the city council -along with more of this hardcore/ drilled down investigative journalism- we’ve definitely got this all under control in no time flat. jesus.

  63. I lived in Charlotte in the late 80s visiting Asheville on business and occasional pleasure. I was often warned by hotel owners and employees not to go downtown because it was dangerous. While at that point a lot of buildings were in disrepair or boarded up I never found it dangerous as I was told. After decades out west came back to NC and lived in Woodfin, working and playing in Asheville. Escaped the clueless pretension over 15 years ago. Living in rural WNC reflecting on why anyone in Asheville thinks what passes for a liberal Democrat there is “far left.”

  64. To run for office here, in opposition to incumbents, what would a campaign cost and how would it be funded if one isn’t wealthy?

  65. Excellent first article on Asheville’s most serious problem. I would ask that the Watchdog journalists also focus on some interviews with the many people who live in the downtown area [not just those who live outside the downtown]. We also have some serious commentary and observations. Maybe the city council will finally quit dithering around with hiring outside consultants and get right to heart of fixing the mess that living, working and visiting Asheville’s center has become.

  66. If Asheville’s primary business and major source of revenue, sans taxes, is tourism, then it should also be noted, that tourism dollars, are discretionary dollars. Meaning such dollars, do not need to be spent on “tourism” or “recreation”, in or outside of Asheville; as they are “discretionary dollars”.

    However, when such discretionary dollars are spent, it is the individual that owns those discretionary dollars that ultimately decides where to spend them, and on what to spend them upon?

    We’ve decided our discretionary dollars will not be spent in Asheville’s downtown and tourism areas, for all the unsavory and unsafe reasons mentioned in the article. Asheville lost our discretionary dollars several years ago when it lost its safe and welcoming personality.

    1. Yes, and Tourism as done in Asheville here is a horrible business model. Imagine owning a popular restaurant with low wages, limited seating, long waits, sagging roof, old fridges about to die any moment….would you still spent most of your money on advertising for more diners, or would you get your house in order?

  67. We have an epidemic of addiction that deprives people of their dignity and livelihoods. What’s happening in Asheville with these poor souls is happening everywhere. Fentanyl and carfentanil are unlike anything we have faced before as a society. Much worse then heroin, and that’s saying a lot. Until we arrest the dealers and distributors, get these folks off the street, detoxed, and into aggressive rehab it’s only going to get worse.

  68. Thanks for a great article. As one of the few here anymore. I am a native, born and raised here. I quit going to town several years back. Way TOO MANY weird ,homeless, folks who do not want to work, but rather panhandle. That environment is NOT for me. We can’t have proper police without having city /mayor/ council BACKING UP POLICE. If they lived/worked in areas that felt very unsafe,then I’m sure all of this wouldn’t be a huge issue. How many city council are “local,born,raised here”?. This city doesn’t feel like home anymore. All council wants are more tourists.

  69. How many of you showed up at the city council meeting last night? It’s easy to talk and complain; yet hard to actually serve and get involved. We all need to be doers.

  70. Born here almost 50 years ago. Seen it all change for good and bad. As with our own lives, the area is going through a phase. Will we become Seattle, Breckenridge, Myrtle Beach or all 3? Used to be only crowded in the Fall and Summer festival season but is now crowded on a February weekend. Yes, the economic activity is a benefit to all, but it comes at a cost.
    How many of you migrated here? Why did you come here, was it to escape your previous environment? What created that environment that compelled you to leave? I’m not judging as I would flee a spoiled nest as well, but I would avoid repeating the same decisions and voting habits that ruined the old nest. I wonder if any of you were here long enough to remember a conservative on the city council?
    We do enjoy folks moving in, tearing down our monuments, renting out the house next door weekly to partiers, driving aggressively, and telling us how stupid and backwards we are.
    It is now a town of vagrants, breweries, and short-term rentals and short-term residents. We are blessed to live in a unique and (mostly) free country that allows you to live where and as you choose.
    But as the ancient Knight Templar advised Indiana Jones, “you must choose, but choose wisely”.

  71. Great article. You interviewed many people who own stores and work for different businesses downtown. I have lived downtown for 11 years and have seen much of what you have reported take place in the past couple of years.. Public safety should not be a tribal “blue vs red” issue. While it is sad that there are homeless people and sad that many of these able bodied people choose to do drugs and beg for money, we must demand personal responsibility from these individuals. Right now, it is every man (woman) for themselves. Be vigilant. My wife and I no longer go for long walks downtown at night. Its mayhem.

  72. But look at all the wonderful traffic-calming, road diets, and bike lanes our city leaders are championing.
    The people that occupy council chambers are as delusional as those that believe that Trump beat Biden. They see only what they want to see, and hear only praise for their road diets and bike lanes.
    Yet they are easily reelected each time, so this is apparent what the well-heeled want.

  73. Everyone here is quick to throw City Council under the bus. You do realize that several of you that are taking such offense to all of this are the same people that voted the last several elections to have the COA become so progressive. You had to have your head in the sand to not realize this was going to be the outcome. You contributed to this mess as much if not more than anything City Council did.

  74. Asheville is like a microcosm of the most urgent woes that face American society as a whole. Take for example:

    -Massive wealth disparity.
    -Corporate healthcare which places profits over patients.
    -Unsustainably high cost of living compared to overall wage growth.
    -Drug addiction, mental health issues, homelessness, and crime front and center in our city streets in ways most people have never seen before.
    -Toxic political discourse aimed at labeling people based on their perceived beliefs vs. an earnest attempt to work together to solve difficult problems.

    As a community, we should be able to agree that homelessness is a sad and unfortunate byproduct of people falling through the cracks of society, while at the same time say that open drug use, violence, aggression, and people having mental health episodes in plain sight is unacceptable and unbecoming of a civilized, 21st century society.

    Are more police the only solution? Perhaps not. But a better trained and paid police force is certainly part of the equation. The fact that the satellite police station was closed downtown – our center of commerce, tourism, business, and government – is wildly baffling to me despite the challenges facing APD.

    The city is facing an urgent crisis in the face of massive affordability issues, discontent among the service industry, a woefully undiversified economy, wildly outdated infrastructure, and a downtown that is seemingly devolving by the day despite all the glistening new hotels.

    Tourism needs to be placed on the back burner immediately. Everyone knows about Asheville — the secret is out. Furthermore, there are plenty of private businesses and organizations with the resources to provide the outreach and marketing efforts to bring people here. The city needs to focus all of its effort towards a multipronged, evidenced-based plan to address the quality-of-life issues affecting the sustainability of Asheville as a great place to live. Then they need to hone their messaging to make sure the people who live and pay taxes here understand the city is on their side. This needs to be done with a sense of urgency that is currently severely lacking among our elected officials.

    1. You make a lot of great points in a reasonable manner. I suggest you shape this comment into a letter to the editor and send to local papers. Perhaps also consider speaking during public comment at future meetings?

  75. Easy Peasy. Arrest and detain the bad ones and the others will go away. There’s probably 50 bad ones in downtown Asheville. “Stewpid” voters elect “dumm” politicians who tell the District Attorney who tell the Police Chief to ignore the bad ones. I witnessed San Francisco slide downhill in 1980. I witnessed Asheville slide downhill in 2020. It’s easy to lose.

  76. Couldn’t the writers have interviewed somebody with solutions besides more police? I hope that will be a follow-up story. And it seems like there should have been more acknowledgement that urban homelessness is an ugly problem in many, many cities, and that nobody seems to have an idea about how to fix it.

    1. We will be addressing all of the issues you raise in upcoming stories.

    2. I recognize that the police force is understaffed, but I also believe that we need to consider a different sort of policing in certain areas of the city. I encourage concerned citizens to learn about the Koban style of policing that moves officers into community hotspots to build trust and anticipate/mitigate crimes before they happen. Adding such an auxiliary force (with significant financing from the TDA) could help with downtown issues and might even be a good recruitment tool. The reality is that our city cannot attract *good* officers to move here and perform miracles in a place where they cannot afford to buy a home. We need to recalibrate our approach, raise salaries, subsidize housing for law enforcement (and teachers), change the narrative about law enforcement, and promote police work as a career in area high schools much the way many schools already do with ROTC. Unique cities should embrace unique approaches.

      1. Sadly, I seem to recall APD coming under fire several years ago for having a patrol map that prioritized “hotspots”.

        The same mindset that elected a city council member that marched with Antifa, and who believes a 40% reduction in police staffing is only a start, took issue with the fact that the crime rate is higher in some areas than others.

        1. If true, then those people should be called out for being myopic imbeciles. We need the right sort of proactive community policing around hotspots. Drugs and hatchets should be confiscated on the spot. (Hillcrest residents, for example, have requested more of a police presence in their communities.) Koban policing is worth a closer look. Many cities in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere are adopting similar models.

  77. Take a look at the way Nashville has cleaned up their downtown area. Might be a good example of what Asheville could do to start to fix downtown.

    1. I lived in Nashville for 40 years and saw downtown go from the way Asheville is described in the ’80s, to an energetic, vibrant area of renovation, restaurants, music venues of all types, cultural centers like the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, plus a major arena for an NHL team, concerts and events, to the drunk tank Lower Broad is now, filled with transpotainment vehicles from pedal taverns to John Deer tractors to hot tubs on wheels to penis, yes, penis mobiles, filled with trashed riders out yelling each other. Each side of the street is lined with three story bro bars branded by country music ‘stars’ who never set foot in the place and sidewalks are lined with vendors selling cheap merchandise and swag for bachelorettes. Over 100 bachelorette parties a week on a slow week make Nashville the #1 destination for those parties in the nation. Lower Broad is a cacophonous, vulgar, trashy theme park that residents avoid at all costs other than to attend a Predators game or a concert at the Ryman on the north side of Lower Broad or the Schermerhorn on the south side. Major businesses that have been downtown for years are moving for quieter locations and the nationally known magnet high school Hume Fogg just on the western edge of Lower Broad has been begging for help for years to allow them to maintain a healthy learning environment. Even the man ‘credited’ with creating it, Butch Spyrdon, head of the CVB, admits it has all gone far too far and is trying to pull back. That genie has left the bottle and will never get back in. Nashville has cleaned up their downtown? I was there last weekend for an event at the Hall of Fame and could hear and smell Lower Broad from a block away.

  78. The number of people here either excusing the behavior described or tacitly defending it is sad.

    Yes, there are homeless people in Asheville. Most of them are temporarily so and will move out of it with their own work and the assistance of the plethora of government and private services offered in the Asheville area.

    Those are not the ones who are engaging in the behaviors described in this article. They are good people just down on their luck, and they don’t use their situation as an excuse to harm others.

    But there is a segment of the homeless population that is different. They are not the ones who were pushed out of a rental by a price increase, despite working. They are not the ones who were laid off from a job and just hit a bad patch and need a temporary hand up. They are the ones who or chronically homeless, for whom that is the lifestyle, and who don’t want to change and won’t, at least not unless 100% of the work is done by others and everything is paid for by others. Most of them are not from Asheville but came here because of its reputation as a good place for that kind of lifestyle.

    Those are the ones doing all the things listed in this article. A small, but very destructive, segment of the homeless population.

    All those things described in this article are real.

    For those whining about them not interviewing anyone who is homeless for this article, what exactly did you think they were going to say to justify any of the described behaviors???? “Oh yeah, I harass women leaving work and I toss my used needles down and crap right outside the back door to the business, but I’m totally justified in doing it because rent is high and I don’t like tourists”? There isn’t any justification for the behaviors described in this article, period.

    Seriously, none of the described behaviors here is ok. It’s not ok if you are rich or poor, it’s not ok if you are housed or homeless. It’s just not ok

    There isn’t an excuse for stealing from people trying to make a living.

    There isn’t an excuse for vandalism.

    There isn’t an excuse for harassing people.

    There isn’t an excuse for aggressive panhandling that rises to the level of making threats to people, following them around or laying hands on them.

    There isn’t an excuse for throwing used needles on the ground. That’s a biohazard. I promise you that if you saw a truck with a Mission logo on the side dump some used needles out the same people who justify the homeless doing it would be outraged. It’s the same act, it’s not less wrong because of who did it.

    There isn’t an excuse for tossing hundreds of pounds of garbage into the environment where you are camping. Same thing as with the needles, if you saw a truck with the name of a local business dumping a huge load of garbage into the woods you would be outraged. But a handful of homeless people can do the exact same thing, creating huge piles of all kinds of clothing and spoiled food and trash and people won’t offer a bit of criticism except against the people who eventually have to kick them out and clean up the huge mess.

    There isn’t even an excuse for defecating on the ground in public. I’ve seen several posts here defending it saying “where else can they go”. I worked construction doing cable system upgraded all my summers through college, and we often didn’t have a bathroom nearby. When we had to we laid a plastic bag down, went in it, and then disposed of it in a proper garbage bin. That’s basic human decency and respect for both the environment and everyone around you. And there are plastic bags all over, so that’s just as viable an option for someone who is homeless in Asheville.

    The people who said Asheville has gone so far to the hard left that you can’t even have a frank discussion about facts and problems are right. All the behaviors described in this article are 100% real and also 100% wrong, and the biggest response has been the attacking of the people who described their lives experience and the journalists who dared to speak of it.

    Talk about a twisted sense of morality here. A local business owner can be harassed, stalked, stolen from, have people defecate on her doorstep and nobody cares. But she dares to speak frankly about it and a reporter dares to publish her story and all the virtue signalers attack the shop owner and reporter. Who is really the person in the wrong in this story?

    1. I don’t think anyone would disagree with you that mentally intact individuals should not do these things and be fully punished to the extent of the law. The reality is that many who are homeless are in that position because of profound addiction or mental illness. I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to see someone in full blown addiction on their drug of choice and they’re not worried about where they are going to the bathroom or dropping a needle – they just don’t have the mental capacity to care.

      Fentanyl is unlike anything we have faced as a society. The homeless problem nationally is just a symptom of an underlying drug and mental health problem. And instead of putting addicts back on the street they need a choice of rehab or jail, where they at least have a shot at getting clean. And law enforcement should concentrate on locating and arresting the suppliers and dealers. When the drugs are gone, the demand will fade and the addicts will move on to other places where they can score.

  79. agreed Eric. i also think the “It’s us against the rest of WNC” mentality that Asheville folks seem to have makes it hard to have these much needed discussions. and of course, to be fair here, the eye rolling and disdain that some folks have for Asheville who live in WNC are also not helpful.I hope that this series starts that discussion. i would suggest that the WATCHDOG organize a group of voters and citizens from all sides of the equation to see if a discussion can be had about this situation. the alternative is to keep doing what we are doing and nothing will change until Asheville just fades away……

  80. When you own a rental home, you pay your mortgage, your insurance, your utilities and take care of improvements/repairs/maintenance/tree work, etc. (pretty much in that order). Advertising for renters comes after these essentials are handled. The City and the TDA could learn a lot from responsible home-owners, and they seriously need to get on the same page. Tourists = Renters

  81. I agree with many of Eric’s statements. I am a nurse who spent most of my nursing career working in inner city hospitals, and NYC. I worked with many unhomed pts both in the hospital and in mobile street clinics. There is a big difference in the unhomed that are that way through different circumstances such as mental illness or job loss, and those that choose that way of living because they can’t or won’t follow societal rules. Add the current drug crisis, and it is a recipe for disaster. I agree downtown at night has changed in the last several years, and not for the good. I consider myself fairly street savvy, but there is a big difference walking by people who are high, and those who are not. If you are a tourist coming from a small town, or a family walking, it could be overwheming. There are many services that are available to the people that need them in Asheville, but we need help making them available. As far as the people breaking the law, getting a larger police presence and follow thru in the courts could help decrease the problem, and enable those who actually want help to receive it. There are many components that contribute to a thriving, safe, downtown. They all need to be addressed

  82. Sad to see a once amazing city go all in on being the San Francisco of the east coast and not in a good way. Money talks and pays taxes – as soon as tourists stop coming to Asheville you might see some action – until then, good luck! We used to visit Asheville yearly, and I’ve actually booked 6 visits over the summer with camp drop off / pick up and for fun. However, who wants to deal with this nonsense on a getaway. Perhaps we’ll stay in Greenville or somewhere else nearby. Sad, because two of my favorite restaurants are Salsa’s and Curate. Elections have consequences and going all in on defund the police has worked as expected…

  83. Shamefully cruel article and comments. If police violently displacing unhoused people did anything to either get these folks out of sight or (god forbid) actually get them the help they need, it would have happened by now! This is a growing city that is becoming unaffordable to live in, in the midst of a nationwide cost of living and housing crisis. Feel free to move if you can’t handle that reality, but all of you people horrified at having to see people who have been utterly abandoned on your way to a $500 dinner would simply vaporize into thin air if you set foot in any city with a population over 100,000.

    And how many people complaining here about public substance use have made an utter ass of themselves while drunk, but were protected from public ridicule and policing by simply being in the comfort of a private home or establishment?

    The solution to needles on the ground is sharps disposal boxes.
    The solution to public substance use is a private place to use, including housing and overdose prevention centers.
    The solution to public urination and defecation is 24/7 public bathrooms.
    The solution to addiction is treatment and social connection.
    The solution to mental illness is mental healthcare.
    The solution to homelessness is housing.

    If you need armed thugs in uniform brutalizing our most dispossessed neighbors to keep your peace of mind and sense of wellbeing, you are a coward and a bully. Fix your hearts.

    1. Jane – You are making the supposition that the people acting outside of normal decent behavior are going to seek a needle disposal box or a 24/7 toilet. We are faced with two separate groups – those who are law abiding and just down on their luck and those who just do not give a crap and are lawless.
      Yes we have to figure out a solution to mental health issues but governments ( local to national ) are not funding these to the extent they are effective. The challenge as I see it is how to deal with those who act outside of the law and social norms.

  84. Take a stand!
    Get rid of drug dealers, and drug manufacturers. And the rest falls away.
    I know easier said than done but it’s the only way.
    There won’t be visitors with a reputation like what is reported. 😭

    1. The war on drugs has already been going on for over 50 years. It’s time to try something else.

  85. Jane, your solutions presuppose two things:
    1. that the perpetrators will willingly follow your solutions
    2. that raising taxes on everyone to accommodate your solutions will work, is a good thing, and guaranteed to have the desired efficacy now and in the future
    Maybe if we all held hands and sang “Kumbaya my Lord” together it would all just go away.

  86. Defund the police was a monumental mistake. Let’s admit we were wrong and proactively seek to build a 21st century Police Department that is well trained to interact peacefully with people suffering from mental health issues. Let’s pay these peace officers very very well.

    Let’s build reasonable temporary nightly housing for ALL in need, and let’s establish an ordinance that penalizes aggressive pan handling and sleeping in business doorways and blocking pedestrian traffic. Be cool, or move along. Tyranny of the minority will not stand.

  87. We use to enjoy visiting Asheville and the Biltmore. We would not visit Asheville even on a bet again anytime in the future. The citizens have let the city go to hell in a handbasket.

  88. I was 9 the first time I went uptown to Asheville by myself. I rode the bus then walked to the (then) Imperial Theater to watch a play for kids. Can not remember the name. Afterward, I walked back to the bus stop, caught the Depot Street bus and rode home. No problem. Year was 1954. For almost eighty years I have watched America decline. It is not Asheville, it is the entire country. Too many Me,Me,Me groups; crooked politicians; people not caring. Too few police; no respect for law and order, for our Country, for each other. Politeness is gone. Sanctuary cities, WOKE, Progressive Democrats (that’s an oxymoron), No Control of our Border. There will be a change and Nazi Germany will seem a paradise to what will (WILL) happen to our country. I fear for what has been lost but know the worst is yet to come.

  89. I’m a big fan of your reporting and appreciate you giving voice to these employees and business owners. However, I think words like these are incredibly irresponsible and lack the information-based reporting that we need:

    “Vagrants — emboldened by the lack of law enforcement, the pervasive use of methamphetamine, and a justice system that returns habitual lawbreakers to the streets time and again — are more aggressive, even confrontational.”

    This is your opinion and you could have written anything else here to summarize the root cause of what’s going on. However, framing your learnings in this manner made this piece perfectly aligned with the prevailing conservative narrative (which is why Fox News likely cited your article).

    Hoping y’all do better in the future.

    1. What I derived from this comment is that he or she may be ashamed of his or her hometown because it has a true report by that “shameful” Fox News…OMG! Not being mentioned by other national outlets doesn’t make it false. The portion repeated in quotation marks is based on witness certainty. Maybe the “root cause” not followed up on in his or her comment above will be revealed by the end of the series.

  90. I’ve lived in WNC for a decade, Asheville for 5 years. I grew up in East Tennessee.

    Now, I work for a nation suicide prevention service, and I just want to echo many commenters who have already noted that it is irresponsible to present this article as actual journalism. It’s an opinion piece, and it uses stigmatizing language to broadly mis-categorize people without housing as “vagrants” “addicts” and “transients”

    I disagree with the sentiment shared by many here that people have to “work” to deserve housing, supportive services, etc, primarily because in my work in suicide prevention services, I talk to people all the time who have done *everything” right trying to access supportive services, and gain access to housing, but are denied those services because of the way they are criminalized by municipalities that treat policing as the only viable solution to homelessness. That’s because when you criminalize people for being homeless, you catch everyone who is homeless in that net, not just people that this article and commenters are describing as bad actors. You catch everyone: children, families, elders, BIPOC folks, living on the streets and just trying to make it.

    Arresting people who are homeless, in crisis, or struggling with addiction doesn’t do anything to change the conditions that created this broader crisis, and won’t do anything to “clean up the streets of Asheville” or whatever the f*ck Kestin and Boyle are promoting.

    Giving people safe places to sleep, access to basic amenities and safe places to dispose of sharps, etc, would solve so much of this! Policing is just a way to disappear the absence of these services be criminalizing public homelessness, addiction, and mental health crisis.

    Before saying we need to “refund the police” or whatever, actually follow the recommendations of the various experts and consultants the city has paid 100’s of thousands of dollars to, and set up basic supportive services. And cost less than arresting people and incarcerating them. It’s so UNHINGED to be like “defunding the police has failed’ when city government has REFUSED to even TRY any of the alternatives. By eliminating a police presence downtown, while refusing to do anything to address the intersecting humanitarian crises that have created this situation (and, in fact, have only done things to EXCACERBATE this crisis, including clearing camps in defiance of guidance from the CDC) the city has just created a narrative that allows them to justify a status quo, wasting millions on a dysfuntional, incompetent, and needlessly violence police force, when alternatives exist, when other, cheaper, more effective options exist? And who benefits from this? A corrupt and dysfuncitonal police department that has proven it can’t stop doing harm, or even retain staff, and city staff that aren’t elected, but are instead appointed by elected officials. Grim.

    But, hey, you know what I do agree with about this article, and about what everyone in the comments has said: city government has failed everyone who lives here, from business owners to people living on the streets.

    I wish Boyle and Kestin had the guts to point this out, rather the punching down and the most vulnerable amongst: the people who have nowhere to sleep except on sidewalk downtown.

  91. Has anyone spoken with WNCAP? They used to have a needle exchange program. They had boots on the ground. I am curious about their thoughts on what they are seeing now.

  92. I see Kestin has responded to comments asking why this piece presents only one side of the story, expressing the intent to follow up with other perspectives. If I was homeless in this community, and I caught wind of this piece, I would be TERRIFIED to interview with the two of you.

    I might be wrong about this, but I recall seeing the tagline for this article as “part 1 of an investigative series” or something in that vein, when I saw it on the home page. “Investigation” has an actual meaning in journalism– this is not an investigation, and it’s embarrassing to present it that way. This is a propaganda piece designed to generate fear and resentment toward vulnerable populations and toward people protesting murders committed by police. And it’s working! Just look at the comments full of people acting like they live in some kind of Mad Max wasteland dystopia.

    I don’t begrudge downtown merchants the ability to say whatever they have to say, but the amount of 911 calls people make is not a barometer of anything meaningful. It’s not a statistic, it’s an unsubstantiated claim, and this whole article abounds with them– not just the quotes but unwillingness of the authors to question their own underlying assumptions, which are thoroughly embedded throughout the article. It’s clear exactly what kind of policies the authors support here. If presenting those so nakedly was not their intent, perhaps it’s time to consider a career change.

    Write whatever you want, I guess, but anyone who calls this “journalism” is kidding themselves. It’s a grievance diary. It’s the equivalent of a conservative AM radio call-in hour.

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