David Meyer said he feels less safe on the streets in Asheville because he’s preyed on by crazy-acting younger people on drugs. “I've been out here a long time,” he said. “I've seen enough to know what's going on.” // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

LaVyonne Evans is college-educated, well-spoken, and now, in his seventh decade, unhoused.

“I’m 67 years old, and I’m homeless with a walker,” he said.

In the nearly two months since he was evicted from his rent-subsidized apartment in the River Arts District for non-payment, Evans said he has slept on the streets, in the city bus station, and a U-Haul storage unit.

“There are a lot of challenges out here for people that aren’t on drugs or alcohol, that don’t choose to just break all the rules, that are seniors who have worked all their lives and find themselves in a bad situation,” Evans said. “I’m just making it from day to day.”

Evans is just one of the hundreds who make up Asheville’s unhoused — a mosaic that includes mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, and grandparents; people with mental and physical impairments; and those with gripping drug addictions.

Asheville Watchdog interviewed more than a dozen people experiencing homelessness. Their paths to the streets are varied but often involved the loss of loved ones, abandonment by their families, or a desire to escape difficult circumstances through drugs or alcohol.

They spoke candidly about their experiences on the streets and their struggles with drugs and mental illness because, they said, they want their community to know who they are. 

Here are their stories:

‘Looking for a Hand Up’

Evans said he felt lost after his mother died in 1994. He left Chicago on a bus headed for Charlotte. 

He didn’t like it there, “and people said, ‘Well, Asheville was a nice little place,’ ” Evans said. “I’ve been here since 2000.” 

Evans said he has a college degree in marketing from the University of Illinois and worked as a warehouse logistics manager. 

“I have all kinds of mental challenges: PTSD, bipolar level two … abandonment issues, dyslexia, spectrum autism,” Evans said. “I’m no longer suicidal, thank God for that.”

“I’m trying to get back into housing,” said LaVyonne Evans. “There’s waiting lists.” // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Evans said he collects a “small pension and retirement.” He qualified for housing assistance and said he had been living in a rent-subsidized apartment for 13 years. 

Last fall, he said, a neighbor in his building tried to stab him, and “the manager did nothing about it.” Evans said he withheld his rent payments on the advice of legal aid lawyers, and the property manager filed paperwork to evict him.

He went to court to challenge the eviction, Evans said, but “my meds weren’t working and my hands were flailing around, and I looked like another person on drugs, so I got dismissed.” 

Evans was evicted Jan. 17, court records show. He said he had no relatives to turn to. “I haven’t seen a family member since 1996.”

With nowhere to go, he said, “I was forced to live out on the streets.”

Evans said he stayed in a shelter for three days but left to seek help for a hernia at Mission Hospital. 

“I went to the Emergency Room and they discharged me, and I didn’t have any proof where I was so I lost my bed,” he said. “I have to sit out for up to 30 days to come back.”

Evans said he slept at the central bus terminal on Coxe Avenue. “There’s an electric plug and you can recharge your phone overnight. And it’s safe because there’s lights on. You don’t sleep. You sit in your chair with a blanket on. It’s a wind tunnel.”

Most recently, he said, he’s slept inside the U-haul storage unit where he’s keeping the belongings from his apartment. They “allow me to be there overnight with a 24-hour access pad. That’s a blessing from God.”

He leaves in the morning. “I try to stay away an entire eight-hour day, just as if I was working,” he said. “I used to volunteer at Manna” Food Bank and churches.

Evans said drug “activity is out in the open” with dealers selling at a bus stop in the heart of downtown. “I see more needles on the ground than I do prophylactics, and we all know that there’s a lot of prostitution going on in the drug trade.”

This is Part 3 of Asheville Watchdog’s series Down Town, examining the reality of the recent deterioration of Asheville’s central business district. In Part 1 we gave voice to the people who live and work downtown. In Part 2 we told the story from the perspective of Asheville’s police. Coming Next: Part 4: Ride along with the front line responders. 

Evans said he sees some help for the people on the streets going to those who don’t seem to want it.

“So much of the resources are being spent chasing people around in circles,” he said. “They give ‘em clothes, they give ‘em food, they give them this and that, and they go out, make a campsite and trash the place.”

He said he thinks “part of the problem with homelessness is that people are getting sick of grocery carts showing up all over town. Homeless people use them to transport their goods. They stock up on all this stuff, and then when things get rough, they just dump it and start over.”

Some take handouts, Evans said, when “people just like myself, we’re looking for a hand up.” 

LaVyonne Evans // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Evans said Asheville is no longer affordable for many on low or fixed incomes. “Food prices have gone up, electric has gone up, transportation, everything,” he said.

“If you’re renting, what maybe was $1,200 bucks a month is now $1,600. Where are we supposed to get that money from?” 

Evans said a community of tiny homes would help reduce Asheville’s unhoused population. But “there’s just going to be poor and hungry always, according to the scripture,” he said. “And try as we might, we can’t fix it.”

Evans said he’s on a waiting list for subsidized housing. “I gotta just keep waiting for a one-bedroom to come open on a bus line so that I can feel safe. I’m gonna have to have another knee surgery so I have to have something that has an elevator. There are just not a lot of beds in this town for all the people trying to move forward.”

No Longer ‘Homeless-Friendly’

Gene Coxie, 48, said he’s been without a home “off and on” since around 2000, including the last two years in Asheville.  

Raised by his grandparents in Texas, Coxie said he began traveling in his 20s, often staying with friends or in his vehicle. He’s lived in more than a half dozen states. He said he worked day labor jobs and on a truck picking up recyclables during a previous stint in Asheville.

“My problems with my hips and my knees and mental issues just got to where I just can’t hold a job no more,” he said.

Gene Coxie said Asheville should consider a tent city. “There are plenty of places around here where they could do that.” // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Coxie said he collects Social Security Disability Insurance. He lives in a tent in the woods with his cat, Shadow, sleeping on a portable cot and making coffee and heating soup on a propane stove. 

“Every morning when I leave, whatever trash I have, I take it with me down to the bus stop,” he said. “I throw it in the trash can there.”

He rides the bus to Homeward Bound’s AHOPE Day Center on North Ann Street, just north of Patton Avenue, to shower, pick up his mail and recharge his phone batteries. Shadow accompanies him in a carrier.

Speaking at AHOPE, Coxie paused as a woman yelled incoherently in the next room. “That’s the kind of stuff that you hear them talking about downtown,” he said.

“About 90 percent of the people are on something — pills or meth,” Coxie said. With methamphetamine, “you don’t sleep on it. It drives you into psychosis. You can experience it just about every day downtown.”

Some of the erratic behavior, he said, “is just normal mental problems that people have. Me, I’m manic depressive with suicidal tendencies.”

Coxie said he used crack cocaine in his 20s but stays away from hard-core drugs. He was married, has two sons, 18 and 8, and is estranged from his relatives.

“I really don’t get along with my family,” he said. “I’m the black sheep.” 

Coxie said the encampment where he’s lived for about a year, off Tunnel Road in a wooded area bordered by Interstate 240, has been razed several times. “If you’re not there, you lose all your stuff,” he said.  

“Most of us just go back and set right back up,” he said. But the last time, about a month ago, “they just literally dug trenches so you can’t go back.”

Gene Coxie takes Asheville Watchdog on a tour of his encampment, which was razed and trenched by the North Carolina Department of Transportation to deter homeless people from camping there and leaving litter. // Watchdog video by Zane Meyer-Thornton

The property is owned by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, a city of Asheville spokeswoman said. NCDOT cleared the area after campers had been notified and given an opportunity to relocate, said a spokesman, David Uchiyama. 

Uchiyama said a mini-excavator “conducted minor earthwork to deter future illegal dumping of litter and debris.”

A place where Gene Coxie and other unhoused people used to camp. Previous campers left behind trash, empty pill bottles, and discarded clothing. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Garbage that Coxie said previous campers left behind is strewn all over, including bags of trash, empty pill bottles and some clothing. Coxie moved his tent a short distance to an area that had not been trenched and was the only remaining camper.

He said he’s not afraid of being alone in the woods. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains. I spent a lot of time on cattle ranches. There’s not much that scares me,” he said.

Coxie prefers camping instead of a shelter run by the nonprofit Western Carolina Rescue Ministries because it doesn’t allow pets and, he said, “you have to sit through a church service every day.” Coxie said he’s agnostic. Even a “low-barrier” shelter with fewer restrictions, as has been proposed for Asheville, does not appeal to him.

“I don’t do well in large groups of people,” he said. “I’m not one to instigate a fight, but I’m not going to back down if somebody wants to start one.”

Gene Coxie and his cat, Shadow // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Coxie said he’s been on a waiting list for public housing for a year. 

As of the end of February, 1,561 households, including single adults and families, were waiting for public housing and another 3,241 were on the list for Section 8 rent-subsidy vouchers, said David Nash, executive director of the Asheville Housing Authority.

The wait could take as little as 3 months, for people working with agencies that agree to provide continued support, or up to five years for a Section 8 voucher, Nash said. 

The city, Coxie said, should “stop putting up hotels and put up some actual housing.” And Asheville should consider dedicated encampments “where people like us homeless can set up.”

Coxie said he would like an apartment but also wants the flexibility to travel if he can replace a truck that broke down. Some people on the streets, he said, don’t seem to want help and “are more interested in drugs than housing.”

Coxie said Asheville used to be more “homeless-friendly.” About 20 years ago, he stayed in a large encampment off Clingman Avenue. A neighborhood restaurant allowed use of their dumpster for trash, he said, and “nobody bothered us.”

Now, Coxie said, “seems like no matter where you go, they want to run you off.”

Shoplifting, Jail; Meth ‘Ruined My Life’

Sandra Maddy came to Asheville from Sylva, her long-time home, about a month ago, hoping to escape the “triggers” that contributed to her addiction to methamphetamine.

She said she was recently released from a drug-related stint in jail and thought “there’d be more resources” in Asheville. Maddy, 47, spent her first days at Mission Hospital after suffering a mild heart attack, she said.

Sandra Maddy said she started using methamphetamine “to escape the hurt”after her parents died. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

The hospital, she said, sent her to a mental health facility “because I had suicidal thoughts on top of everything.” From there, she said, she spent a couple of nights with a friend and then slept huddled to the side of a pedestrian bridge by the hospital.

“It was so bitter cold,” she said. She made her way to AHOPE the next morning with “nothing but the clothes on my back” — a Looney Tunes sweatshirt and sweatpants.

She said that since July she’s been off the drugs that nearly killed her.

“It’s ruined my life,” she said. “If I could go back and do it all over again, I would. My kids and grandkids are the ones that suffered because mama’s not around like she should be, mama’s not healthy like she should be.”

Maddy said she first experimented with meth about a decade ago and got hooked. “It felt like it just took all the pain away. It numbed me,” she said. “I had just lost everybody, lost my dad, lost my mom, and it was like nothing else mattered. And my kids were out on their own doing their own thing.”

The drugs, she said, drove her to homelessness and crime. Maddy is a convicted felon, North Carolina Inmate 0520334. Her record includes convictions for shoplifting, drug, theft, and forgery charges. She’s been in prison and most recently spent 120 days in the Jackson County jail.

“For four months, I had somewhere to go, I had three meals, I had a bed, TV,” she said of her time in jail. “It’s the reason why a lot of people repeat the same process … They’ll commit the crime again, just so to say, ‘Well, I’ve got somewhere to go now.’ ”

Maddy said meth “can play on your emotions. I could be in an upbeat mood, happy-go-lucky.” And just like that, she said, “it can make you turn pure evil.”

She said she paid $40 to $60 for a gram of meth and would inject it into her veins “just about anywhere I could find a spot on my arms, or the back of my hand, or legs … If I couldn’t find a spot, I would snort it.”

A gram would last about a day. The next day, she said, “I’d be right back doing the same thing.”

Maddy said she survived on the good will of friends, “what friends I had,” and strangers. She said she panhandled on the streets only a couple of times. “I might have gotten $10 in a day, just enough for a pack of cigarettes and something to eat.”

She stole, she said, to support her habit. “I hate saying that, but I would steal from this Walmart, take it to that Walmart, get a gift card. And then take that gift card and sell it to the person that has drugs.”

Sometimes, a drug dealer would request certain items for her to steal. “They’d give you like a little shopping list,” she said.

She said she would hide the stolen goods in a bag or a pocketbook, “just walk out of the store with it, and If you didn’t get caught, then you’re doing good.”

Maddy did get caught, and now, she said, she is banned from Walmarts.

If she had stayed in Sylva, she said, she’d be surrounded by drugs and fellow addicts. “If it weren’t for jail, I probably would be dead by now,” she said.

Maddy already sees temptations in Asheville but said she believes she can remain clean. 

“I’m having to redirect my mind because I’m wanting to stay away from drugs,” she said. “Just somewhere to lay my head, that’s what matters to me right now.”

And repairing the damage she said she’s done with her family. 

“It’s like, nobody wants to call me, check on me, see how I’m doing,” she said. “I haven’t got to talk to my daughter in a year. I understand that, you know. I’ve done wrong, but I want to make it better.”

Sandra Maddy recently spent 120 days in the Jackson County jail. “For four months, I had somewhere to go, I had three meals, I had a bed, TV,” she said of her time in jail. “It’s the reason why a lot of people repeat the same process … They’ll commit the crime again, just so to say, ‘Well, I’ve got somewhere to go now.’ ” // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Maddy said she’s been without a home of her own for five years. 

“I want to be able to have my own place, even if it’s a motel room,” she said, “something that I can call mine so that I can at least have my kids come over and visit and I can see my grandkids.”

‘This Ain’t Asheville No More’

Everett Keeter said he’s been on the streets since mid-November when he lost his home in Illinois.

Asked what happened, Keeter said with a laugh, “That ain’t none of your business.” 

Keeter, 61, said he returned to Asheville. His mother lives in Black Mountain.

Homeless and mostly blind, Everett Keeter said he sleeps in “any hole I can find. I’m out here every day, every night trying to find somewhere to lay my head.” // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Mostly blind, he uses a walking stick and on a recent afternoon downtown was lugging a suitcase on rollers with a boom box tuned to rock music. Standing on Patton Avenue, he pointed across the street to Pritchard Park, a hangout of the unhoused.

As a child in Asheville, he said, “We used to sit there and play.” Now, he said, he sees “chaos and confusion.”

“They’ve got people sleeping up on the benches of the library,” he said. “They dope fiends all over around here. This morning, I’ve seen already two or three dope addicts, fiending. They call it fiending. They’re looking for something to get so they can get some more dope.”

At the ART bus terminal on Coxe Avenue, he said, “They be in the bathroom down there. You can’t even go in and use the bathroom. They in there doing dope.”

The previous weekend, Keeter said, he saw a woman on the sidewalk “shooting dope, broad daylight.” The next morning, “That chick’s still laying there, in that blanket.”

“I smoke my weed,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong.”

He said he has filled out applications for assistance from agencies that work with the blind. He stayed in a shelter when he first arrived but caught the flu and won’t go back. 

Keeter said he sleeps in “any hole I can find. I’m out here every day, every night trying to find somewhere to lay my head.”

Securing a safe place is “hard to do around here because just like the other night somebody might run up on you,” he said. 

He said he was in his sleeping bag behind the Ingles on Tunnel Road about 4:30 a.m. when another man, high on meth or fentanyl, attacked him.

“He turned into a demon, and he was coming at me, throwing shit at me, and hollering and cussing and spitting,” Keeter said. “He threw a damn trash can at me. I had to get up and move.”

Everett Keeter used to play in Pritchard Park downtown as a child. Now he, he said, he sees “chaos and confusion there. “They dope fiends all over around here. This morning, I’ve seen already two or three dope addicts, fiending.” // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

A lot has changed, he said, since he was a child playing in Pritchard Park. “This ain’t Asheville no more.”

Targeted: ‘I Need Protection’

David Meyer said he also feels less safe. 

Sitting on a bench on Haywood Street, Meyer, 58, said he’s been without a home since June 2022, after the death of his mother who handled his affairs. 

David Meyer said he feels less safe on the streets in Asheville because he’s preyed on by crazy-acting younger people on drugs. “I’ve been out here a long time,” he said. “I’ve seen enough to know what’s going on.”// Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

“They zero in on me whenever I fall asleep outside,” Meyer said. “They’re like banging on trash cans and stuff around me.”

He said he’s been in Asheville about three years, and before that lived in Kingsport, Tenn. 

“I applied for housing about a week or two ago,” he said. Meyer said he receives Social Security Disability Insurance and is on Medicaid but hasn’t been to a doctor recently.

“I go to the Emergency Room whenever I really need something,” he said.

Meyer said he’s seen more younger people on the streets lately from “California, I heard,” and “everywhere.”

“They’re flocking here like a tidal wave,” he said. “And they’re all hustlers, vagrants and hustlers, begging for money. No job, doing nothing, just living on the streets.”

“They make a target out of me,” Meyer said. “They walk up to me and say, ‘Can I use your lighter?’ And they give me one back that looks like mine. I walk down the street to use my lighter, and it’s a dead lighter.”

Some of the new people on the streets “look like they got a place to live, maybe in the county or another county,” Meyer said. “They come here every single day, 24/7, to hustle and they all disappear about 10, 11 o’clock at night and show up the next morning.”

Meyer said passersby are generous. “About 10 percent of the population in Asheville gives out money all day long.”

Meyer blamed the prevalence of meth and other potent drugs for the people he sees acting crazy. 

“They’re all on it, something or another,” he said. “They’re real messed up. I think they got brain-damaged from whatever they’re doing. These drug dealers are poisoning their drugs, and they don’t give a damn.”

Meyer said he would like to see more police downtown, especially plain-clothes officers. “Every time I see cops on the beat, I say, ‘Boy, I’m glad’ because I need the protection.”

‘Just Regular People’

Dethorn Graham, originally from Hickory, moved to Clyde with his foster family and then to Asheville by himself about two years ago.

He said he bounces between temporary shelters and the streets, and for a while stayed with a girlfriend. “It’s tough to find a home for someone who battles with depression,” he said.

Dethorn Graham said his days can be challenging. // Watchdog photo by Zane Meyer-Thornton

Graham, 34, sometimes hangs out in downtown business doorways. “I often am just sitting, planning to move, and my eyes close for just a moment and someone nudges me, pointing to the ‘No Trespassing’ sign,” he said. “Nothing disrespectful, but I think, ‘Where did that come from?’ I was planning to move anyway.”

Graham said he wants good relationships with downtown merchants. “I try to find ways to build bridges, establish a presence with business owners, buy something, say, ‘Hi,’ ” he said.

Asheville is in desperate need of more affordable housing, he said. “It’s just so hard to find a place. They expect you to be able to pay just to apply. There’s a long waiting list of people dying to get into these apartments.”

Finding a job is also challenging. “I’m looking for work, but days can be complicated for me,” Graham said. “I can have difficult days with the stuff I have going on.”

Graham said most of the people he meets on the streets are from surrounding areas and gravitate to Asheville because it’s the biggest city in the region and has more resources.

He said he doesn’t believe Asheville has a disproportionate number of people on the streets compared to other cities, and that while some steal out of desperation, “A lot of them are just regular people.”

Keeping Watch on the Streets

Elijah Dunyah said he’s lived on the streets of Asheville twice, in 2018 and again since Thanksgiving 2022, and has seen a dramatic change.

“It’s terrible,” he said. “Methamphetamine is just ravaging, it’s just destroying this community. And the people who are putting this stuff in this community need to be taken out of this community and put somewhere.”

Dunyah, 35, said people on the streets are the most vulnerable. “I’m seeing people breaking glass bottles and breaking stuff,” he said. “Somebody can get hurt.”

He said he’s seen young women with their bags and backpacks “just disappearing” and wonders what happened to them.

“Sometimes, if there’s a girl who doesn’t have nobody, I’ll stay with her and sit with her and make sure nobody messes with her,” Dunyah said.

Asked how he came to be without a home, Dunyah, who said he practices Shamanism, said, “The Lord brought me here. My family’s gone … I’ve been traveling around for a long time.”

Arresting people on the streets is not the answer, Dunyah said. “Locking people up and putting them in Buncombe County jail is not going to help them because they don’t have the training that it takes to help people psychologically, and they do more harm than good.”

He said he tries to help people he encounters by “giving them the message, the good word. I really don’t know what we can do, but just love.”

Wish List: Public Bathrooms, Jobs, Compassion 

Three people on the streets who would only give their first names had suggestions for how Asheville can improve life for the unhoused.

– Ellie, a transgender woman from Wisconsin who has been in Asheville for a year, said the city should have garbage cans at bus stops, public phones, and public restrooms. “There’s nowhere for us to go now. I’m so tired of finding needles everywhere. It’s disrespectful to people at the bottom.”

– Otis, 63, who was sitting at Battery Park and Page avenues with a cardboard sign that said, “Anythang Will Help. Homeless,” said he worked in restaurant kitchens until he broke his foot, and has been staying with friends for the past year and a half. He said he’s on a waiting list for housing, and that the city needs “more jobs, more help for people that can’t work.”

– Bizkit, who said she was dropped off in Asheville and abandoned by her mother at age 13, said people downtown on drugs are creating a bad image for the rest of the unhoused. Now 44 and living in a tent outside of downtown, she said drug addicts should be suspended from apartment waiting lists and jailed if they’re causing trouble. “Junkies make us look bad,” she said.

Maddy, the recent arrival to Asheville who is trying to stay off meth, said there’s one solution that doesn’t cost anything: compassion.

“There’s a lot of people that look down on us. ‘Well, you should have done better,’ ” she said. “You try walking a step in our shoes.”

Freelance journalists Greg Parlier and Zane Meyer-Thornton 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. 

29 replies on “Down Town, Part 3: Life on the Streets of Asheville”

  1. Excellent interviewing and reporting. You are hitting the main issues. We would only hope that the politicians on our City Commission and Board of Commissioners would get their heads out of the sand, stop dithering and at least make some bold decisions that might reduce the problem. No more hiring consultants to tell us what we all already see happening to our downtown. If a stronger police police presence downtown is called for, then just do it! Quit dodging the issue.

    Caveat: Watchdog asserts that in Part 1 of this series, it covered people who live and work downtown. This is not accurate. You gave substantial coverage to people who were not actual downtown residents. Rather, they were folks who live somewhere else in the Asheville area and who no longer visit downtown Asheville because of its homelessness and safety issues. Please interview actual downtown residents. See what they have to say about no longer feeling safe downtown. Try talking to some actual residents from the Vanderbilt Apartments, Battery Park Apartments, Grove Arcade, 60 North Market, 12 South Lexington, 21 Battery St. Condos, 65 Ashland [across from the bus terminal], Ashton Street Condos, Woodfin Apartments, Arras Residences, and the other real residents of the downtown area. We are the ones who are most heavily impacted by the administration’s failure to deal head on with the meth, needles, unsafe conditions, unwanted travelers and general sleaziness that have been permeating and overwhelming our downtown area.

    1. Give a hand up to those willing and tell the hustlers to move along. They only come here for the “resources” and since panhandling is allowed all over town, this is the place to come.

  2. We do need small living spaces in communities that can help those with special needs to be brought back into our society.
    The unlawful ones should be separated from society until they can be reintroduced as responsible citizens

  3. What’s the solution? Just giving people free housing isn’t going to help unless there’s something that gives them skin in the game if they are able.

  4. Excellent article. When I did some volunteering with the unhoused before Covid, these descriptions of homelessness were accurate. Now, we have a criminal element that needs to be taken care of. I think it would have been good to interview some of the young hustlers to get that perspective also.

  5. Asheville claims to leaders..what a joke..however if the citizens continue to vote for these airheads, they need to own it, who put these people in their positions? Loose the “haven city status” would be a good beginning. Also recent poll asking if you would support higher taxes for more police protection??? Hell no ! our leaders chose to defund….now give it back..your leaders only know one solution, make citizens pay, we pay the dopers & homeless play, afraid its not going to get better with these folks in power. Such a wonderful “tourist town”, was at one time not anymore…

  6. I appreciate reporting all of this in the words of the unhoused themselves. It is like sociologist Desmond Matthews’ book Evicted, just letting the people tell their story from their perspective to the reader.

  7. This is not just a downtown problem it is a problem in the suburbs too. We have people at nearly every intersection in East Asheville begging for handouts. These people leave their trash and litter wherever they go. Merchants have to have alarm stations in parking lots for customer protection. It is very common to see folks on drugs freaking out along the roadside and running into the road. Drugs are a real problem. There is no fear of being arrested because there are no police here either . We live in a nice area but if you are out early in the morning it is not uncommon to see homeless people around our homes. Most of my neighbors now have cameras and motion detectors for protection because we have no police available to patrol our neighborhoods.

  8. Without detailing the intricacies of the five consecutive years (1998-2002) of homeless outreach/volunteer work I did in Richmond, VA, I just wanted to drop a few notes:
    1- I had MANY of the homeless people I befriended over those years confide in me that they could not recall what elements of their personal stories they’d embellished or often wholly fabricated for the purpose of generating sympathy.
    2- I would guesstimate that 95%+ of them were addicted to one or multiple substances.
    3- Ignored problems rarely, if ever self-correct.

    Tolerating an increasingly ubiquitous zombie class of drug-addicted people with little to no hope or direction is unsustainable, and simply cannot be permitted. This issue matters more than just about any other on the docket, at least as far as Asheville proper is concerned. This city foolishly staked its entire economy on tourism decades ago; We can’t expect merchants to remain, or patrons to visit if they are made to feel unsafe by more and more belligerent, drug-addled people staggering about the city at all hours. Take a look at the comments section of virtually every single article (many of which are paid-for marketing) highlighting Asheville’s grandeur as a tourist destination and you will often see many comments expressing horror and disgust with the obviously intoxicated homeless, their tent camps erected in the middle of open fields, and the mountains of garbage, etc. they generate and carelessly discard all over the city. I am neither callous nor do I lack compassion. I am proud to say that I have personally invested much of my own time and money into homeless outreach. But these aberrations can’t be tolerated while our nitwit city council instead prioritizes what monuments to deconstruct and what streets to rename on behalf of some imaginary victim.

  9. I want to echo what Sue pointed out – this is not just a downtown crisis. There are homeless everywhere in East Asheville. It does not feel safe and there is trash and needles everywhere.

  10. So it seems that one method we can use to help these people, besides the obvious of providing some kind of housing and flexible work, is to get serious about cleaning out the hard illicit drugs in AVL. We need a fully-manned fairly-paid well-trained police force that includes traditional peace officers teamed with other professionals on the force with backgrounds in social work and psychology to directly assist with community engagement and management. A combination of both policing and investigating are needed to enforce existing statutes on drug use, public indecency, property destruction, break and entering, pandering, soliciting, theft, littering and other existing laws. Without enough peace officers to complete investigations, even arrested criminals are not prosecuted due to lack of evidence. Protecting AVL streets and businesses could also help the folks in this article who have become unhoused due to misfortune and lack of safety nets for law-abiding citizens. At least during their dreadful experience of being unhoused, we can make the streets safer for them while we find long term solutions for their housing needs.

  11. thank you for this very important series. The time is long past due for Asheville to face the very serious problems facing it. If they don’t, the city will fail, and that is not an option folks. the proverbial fork in the road has been reached, how will the city respond is the only question left to answer.

  12. What all of these people have in common is that they once had a home. There are too many to count that are close to the edge of becoming homeless. Asheville has become unlivable and unaffordable for the average person, let alone the working poor. The other commonality is grief, trauma, loss and no family support systems. Living on SSDI is trapped poverty. The drugs and violence are intertwined. Cops cannot and should not carry the burden of fixing all of these societal failures. Cops can only push them deeper into the woods and out of sight, temporarily. Government has failed us on so many levels. Maybe the mayor and city council should live among the homeless for a week and do some brainstorming on how to fix it or hire some more useless consultants to make it look like they’re doing something. If only they put as much work into this as they did the baseball stadium issue.

  13. 1) First, one has to be struck at the pitfulness of these lost souls.
    2) Second, the wisdom of our elders should tell us that many of these people can’t be “fixed”. That is to say many will continue with their self destructive behaviours until they can’t. Not all of course, but many. Mr. Dinsmore’s insightful comments need to be read again.
    3) Society has multiple responsibilities. First and foremost is to protect and support the “greater good”. Down the list is to help/assist the most vulnerable. In that order. If helping/assisting the most vulnerable impacts signifcantly on the greater good, well, then you won’t have a society in time. In the case of Asheville, if our attempts to serve all the “homeless” bring down the City’s economy and public safety, that has backward priorities.
    4) No one ever said this approach was easy. It is hard to admit that we can’t save everyone in our society.
    5) Anything that supports or enables “homeless” to continue their self-destructive and/or greater good destroying behaviors should be stopped. One obvious example is arresting people that are openly doing drugs in our city. Another good example is panhandling. Ashevillians are know to be generous (enabling) with their cash handouts at intersections all over the city. Most cities prohibit panhandling at intersections. Asheville’s ordinance prohibits it downtown and Biltmore Park but not elsewhere around town. That needs to change. The City Attorney may state (correctly) that general panhandling cannot be prohibited, only where it creates hazards. But standing at intersections would easily qualify for prohibition. And it needs to be enforced, regularly and consistenly. That one action alone would signficantly reduce the population of “ne’er-do-wells” that seem to enjoy using our city.

  14. As previously point out, Asheville has had a homeless problem for more than 20 years. And Asheville has been trying to solve it for more than 20 years. This article mimics a Feb 27, 2000 and Feb 28, 2000 articles in the Asheville Citizen Times where the reporter humanizes the homeless and tells their story. If you read the article from 2000, you would think it was written today. And nothing has changed in Asheville.

  15. Never has class distinctions and culture been more evident. How hard is it to conclude that people make choices? Excuses are like noses, we all have one. For many on our streets, no amount of aid will bring about permanent change. The barriers between classes is a reality, and there will never be a genuine heart-felt initiative to eradicate drug driven homelessness. The motivation will be to find a solution that does not expose the “normal” to the “disfunctional” , and the fear produced by the liberty seemingly granted to people making wrong choices.
    To simply wish it would go away, is a utopian dream. And since you can’t just ‘lock ’em all up’, and there is a price to pay for using the wrong word discussing this social tragedy, we lock down.
    Obviously, there are family members somewhere. Have they produced a new class of people? Would they be embarrassed to have us learn they have a family member too lazy to work, or too drugged up to own their conduct?
    Civility needs one more thing to worry over, right? On the surface is war with China and/or Russia, out of control border crossings, bank collapses, cartels, drugs, the homosexual and gender confusion, and inflation/recession.
    So, knowing the homeless will never read this, I say, talk is cheap, and the right answers escape us; what must we do? Nothing! Just sit there while property values decline, bus riders do so in fear, business owners wrestle over things like, say, ‘staying in business’.
    Quit handing the “panhandlers” your money. That will make them stop asking, and maybe go get a job. Quit funding the non-profits giving out the “freebies”. Put criminals in jail, even if you have to used closed schools and warehouses to do so. Take away the gyms, tvs, libraries, and other perks making imprisonment a plus. They will not starve to death on basic menus, and no one ever died from hard work. If prison and jails went back to, God forbid, “punishment”, most wanna-be criminals and homeless-by-choice trouble makers, would consider a sincere appeal to the responsible bill-payers in our cities for help leading to reform.
    I could talk for hours, having worked in and around the topic for years. But like I said, talk is cheap.
    And if this sounds like I have no love in my heart, you would be wrong. I love America, ice cream, bologna sandwiches, church services, walks in the park, grandkids, and a host of other things. The street urchins and nasty people threaten the nation we are all missing.

  16. More housing doesn’t appear to be a viable solution. There will always be a larger demand than we can supply, and we’ll never be able to keep up.

    From what I can tell, meth, fentanyl (and benzo dope/tranq) are without a doubt why there is a larger homeless problem now, and why the community (the unhoused and the housed) feels more unsafe. Not all homeless people are addicts. However, for those unfortunate folks that are, I will say that these substances breed a new, and much more dangerous, type of addiction than in the past, and more dangerous actions stemming from the addiction. I believe that in the past, one could be a heroin addict and still maintain employment and housing. That’s not the case with fentanyl. It is a totally different monster, and the self-medicating that is happening is being brought to the surface for all to witness. Why do people self-medicate? I’m no doctor, but it seems that those doing so seem to have serious internal trauma that has not been dealt with.

    I don’t know how we deal with each individual trauma at mass, but I think we need to figure that out. We are sick, and our society is being faced with a serious problem that needs to be addressed. It’s a nationwide issue, not local to Asheville.

    1. It’s a shame that many think that ‘more housing’ is the silver bullet solution. It’s part of the solution for some, but a great many really need serious rehab or jail time. I have a conman addict in my family and speak from experience. The guy has never paid his bills or been true to his word. The more he’s been given/enabled, the more he has taken. I would not want him for my neighbor and wouldn’t wish him off on any of you.

  17. To state the obvious, this is a societal problem, not a City of Asheville problem. The City (alone) can’t solve this any more than the City can stop the war in Ukraine or reverse climate change or end malaria. All the City and County can do is try to address/handle the worst of the situation, to protect life and limb and property and the economy, in a half-reactive/half-proactive way, much as it would when a hurricane blows through. If you think the City/County has the ability or resources to eliminate the root causes of this problem, you are wishful-thinking. At best, our local governments can look at the resources it can muster and do some re-thinking about more effectively allocating them. But we need bigger guns than our city and county can offer.

    1. I don’t disagree with you, but we do have a mayor who ran on a platform of ‘eliminating poverty’, which is fairly fantastical, especially given the fact that she’s a partner in a law firm that just a few months ago advertised for clerical help at several dollars below the living wage. So…if she runs on such a platform, is it any wonder that residents expect council to do more?

    2. What happened to personal responsibility? May be a societal problem, but where does it begin? Our problems start with ourselves, so I disagree with Collins. Asheville contains people, most of which would rather blame others for issues they can fix themselves. Pretend you’re parents who need to use “tough love” and just do it!

  18. A lot of great comments and ideas here. I think Matt Dinsmore is on the best track. I also read Sanfransicko by Michael Shellenberger, and think he offers great solutions:
    1) Lawlessness must stop. Littering, public drug use, stealing, threatening others, using the bathroom in public need to be policed.
    2) Rather than prison, homeless people who engage in the lawless behavior need to be placed in supervised rehab after which they get access to a shelter and then an apartment provided they stay clean and move forward.
    3) Relapses into the bad behavior should result in another stint in rehab, and eventually prison.
    4) Housing that is simply given without strings attached is destructive and enabling.

    Tactics like these are described in Shellenberger’s book, and have worked in places like Amsterdam where homelessness and drug use was a huge problem. In the U.S. we refuse to ask for law abiding behavior first–we think housing first will work while allowing the person to stay addicted and without asking anything of them. Any solution is going to cost money, but if we fail to pay the price to clean up the city we won’t have much of a city anymore. We have to pressure our city “leaders” to prioritize this, and if they don’t, we need to replace them with leaders who will.
    Thanks to the Avl Watchdog for a great series!

    1. I agree with you (and with Matt), largely because I know two people who were/have been enabled and given housing and money and food and a multitude of chances for years and years without any accountability or demands that they make an effort or obey laws or try to get off drugs. One of these people died alone in his subsidized apartment surrounded by booze and free food while the other has been in and out of jail for 30 years and has stolen from family and never paid bills or done what he said he would do. I’m all for helping those who will work and/or make an effort and follow-through on promises. The others really need some tough love, and it’s time for this community to get real before everything comes crashing down.

  19. I spent years dealing with the ‘black sheep’ of my family, helping him out of jams, watching him destroy our parents’ lives and having him screw me over time and again. Try walking a few steps in my shoes.

  20. Yet another great article – please keep it up.
    Many cities are facing the same issues. The NYTimes (and others) have similar articles / first person accounts.
    Here is a recent one from Phoenix, AZ – though it could be many towns, including ours: (forgive the long URL it’s what NYTimes provides for shared articles)


  21. The one glaring trend in this article….

    ” he felt lost after his mother died in 1994. He left Chicago on a bus headed for Charlotte. He didn’t like it there, “and people said, ‘Well, Asheville was a nice little place,’ ” Evans said. “I’ve been here since 2000.” ”

    “said he’s been without a home “off and on” since around 2000, including the last two years in Asheville. ”

    “came to Asheville from Sylva, her long-time home, about a month ago, hoping to escape the “triggers” that contributed to her addiction to methamphetamine.”

    “said he’s been on the streets since mid-November when he lost his home in Illinois.”

    “He said he’s been in Asheville about three years, and before that lived in Kingsport, Tenn. ”

    ” originally from Hickory, moved to Clyde with his foster family and then to Asheville by himself about two years ago.”

    ” a transgender woman from Wisconsin who has been in Asheville for a year”

    “the recent arrival to Asheville who is trying to stay off meth”

    The vast majority are not from Asheville. And came here while homeless.

    Now, think about this. Everyone knows Asheville is a very expensive place to live. Is it a logical place for someone starting over to try to find a fresh start? Absolutely not. East TN and Upstate SC both have much lower costs for housing and more employment opportunities.

    Nobody who wants to start over and rebuild their life chooses the place where housing is the most expensive and job opportunities are more limited.

    So, why do they all come to Asheville? Because its not a destination to come to get a hand up and restart your life. Asheville, with its plethora of agencies giving any supplies and food needed, understrength police department, permissive DA and the rest is the place where its easier to remain homeless.

    And it is the chronically homeless, the ones who choose to stay in that lifestyle because its easier and allows them to live like they want, who are the ones who are the problem. They are the ones who commit crimes. They are the ones who trash the community. The good people just down on their luck a little don’t do those things.

    The one big failure here in this article is that they didn’t ask all the people from Asheville “why did you come here, why do you stay.”

  22. The down on their luck, non-criminal unhoused people are just lacking empathy for the violent criminal unhoused, right? Or do I need a different derailing tactic so I don’t have to address what is so obviously a problem?

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