If I’ve learned nothing else in three decades as a journalist, it’s that nothing is ever simple.
When it comes to the issue of people experiencing homelessness, it’s doubly true. Maybe quadruply.
Last week a reader asked me an Answer Man question about a truck camper parked for weeks at a closed Salvation Army store in Arden on Hendersonville Road. The reader noted that it started with the van but expanded to include a lot of items and debris spread around the parking lot — a real mess, in other words.
“This Salvation Army location has been closed since COVID and just seems to be a dumping ground and squatters’ paradise. Can you find out what is going on with this location, and if indeed people can use the parking lot to squat, dump and set up camp?” the reader asked.
In a word, no, they can’t, according to Maj. Kenny Clewis, head of the Salvation Army in Asheville. Clewis said he had a police officer go by the building March 9 to tell the man he had to leave, but the cop also told Clewis the man’s vehicle is broken down, and he has no money to go anywhere else.
“So I went and talked to him on Saturday (March 11), and he told me that he had some ideas but he just needs a little time,” Clewis said. “But he keeps wanting to run a yard sale, and he said he was gonna sell hot dogs out here. I told him, ‘Sir, you can’t sell anything here.’”
Clewis came to the building this past Thursday and talked with the man, Duane “Woody” Plaskett, as did I. Again, Clewis told him he’s going to have to move.
He said he was doubtful that Plaskett would actually clean up all his stuff and find a place to go. So that leaves Clewis with one option: having the vehicle towed.
But that presents a real conundrum.
“If I pull it and put it in storage, he will never get it back out, and that’s where he’s living,” Clewis said, referring to high storage fees that quickly pile up. “If I have him towed, he’s on the street.”
Clewis said he has given Plaskett money on behalf of the Salvation Army and tried to help with solutions. But so far, he said, Plaskett hasn’t found anywhere else to go, or any way to move the camper.
As you probably know, the Salvation Army is a Christian religious organization, and Clewis has tried to be patient and caring. Plaskett, 54, said he does appreciate the kindness.
“This man right here, he’s the only one who has given me any understanding or real human compassion,” Plaskett said. “Others have helped, you know, and given me the window of time I guess they could, or they would. But he’s helped me immensely.”
How it came to this
Plaskett, 54, grew up in Georgia and moved here seven years ago and started a small moving business. He said a “legal situation from a moving job” in the past year set off his woes, which included losing his living quarters.
Here’s one area where these types of stories get complicated. Plaskett has a criminal record that includes convictions in March 2022 in Madison County for felony breaking and entering, and felony larceny after breaking and entering, according to the North Carolina Department of Corrections.
Plaskett said it was a misunderstanding, and he had no stolen goods in his vehicle. He got a suspended sentence and is serving 18 months of probation.
Criminal histories are not unusual for people experiencing homelessness, and it complicates their efforts to find housing and jobs. Sometimes, the charges come first, contributing to homelessness. Sometimes, they come after.
Plaskett said he’s worked most of his life, and he’s kind of stunned that he’s ended up living in the Salvation Army parking lot.
He bought the 1984 Toyota New Horizon truck camper in Tennessee “for a great price,” and he said it has just 50,000 miles on it and the motor runs. But it needs clutch and brake lines and a new gas tank.
He’s been trying to get it going again, he said, without success. The truck camper has been inoperable for at least two months, he said. It didn’t help that he paid a mechanic in Haywood County $1,700 to do a lot of work on the vehicle, which Plaskett said the mechanic mostly did not do.
Plaskett said he has another vehicle, a Nissan Xterra, that he uses for work and to tow the camper, but that’s not running either. It’s been towed to a gas station in Leicester.
That tow came courtesy of Denny’s Jewelry & Pawn, a little south of the Salvation Army on Hendersonville Road. For months Plaskett rented a unit there, and both sides said he paid on time, both for the unit and to park his vehicles there.
But then, Plaskett said, he ran into some “drama” with them, mostly over his use of an electrical outlet.
Denny’s manager, Tammy Gates, said a lot more than that happened, including a dispute over an expensive bike, and Plackett’s failure to pay. Also, a woman told Gates she was so rattled by Plaskett at the storage containers one night that she told Gates she’ll return now only while carrying a firearm.
Gates said Plaskett missed several months of payments on the storage unit and some of his parking fees, although he did pay sporadically. But between the sporadic payments and other issues, Gates said they decided Plaskett and his property had to go.
The upshot is Plaskett had to leave Denny’s storage facilities as of March 1.
Gates said they had to have Plaskett’s Xterra towed, as it — and a lot of Plaskett’s belongings — were on property they rent to a restaurant. Previously, they had tried to help Plaskett, Gates said, including an offer to pay him to do some work outside.
“I can’t help people that don’t want to help themselves, and Duane’s hardship, he did that to himself,” Gates said.
She said Plaskett had the same pile of belongings on their property that is now at the Salvation Army lot. It was on a rental lot and the business there complained, so it had to go.
Gates said Plaskett was slow in removing it, offering a lot of excuses.
“I had to get real hateful with him, and I don’t like to do that,” Gates said. “He’s always a victim.”
All in all, Gates sounded more exasperated than hateful to me. She said they’ve helped four homeless men so far, paying them to do small engine repairs and other work outside the store. Two are doing well, the other two not so much, including one who’s in jail, she said.
“I don’t think anybody in the United States should be homeless,” she said, standing near a row of guitars for sale, including a fancy Gibson electric guitar with a $7,500 price tag.
I asked if she had an answer to this national conundrum.
“I don’t think anybody does,” she said.
Hoping to move south
At Plaskett’s base camp at the Salvation Army, he said a fair amount of his wares have come from his moving business — people discarding items during a move.
As far as family helping him, Plaskett said Thursday, that’s not an option right now, although he said they help each other when they can. Standing in the doorway of his camper in his bare feet, Plaskett said his plan is to head back south in September, as he’s done with cold winters here.
That’s if he can get his vehicles running and put aside a little money.
Next door at the miniature golf course, a dad and two boys played a round of golf. I’m always struck by these contrasts in Asheville, whether it’s another expensive hotel going up downtown next to the Salvation Army’s shelter, or families seeking entertainment next to a guy whose life has unraveled.
Sure, the unraveling often involves bad decisions and failure to take responsibility. But bad luck often dogs these folks, too.
In Plaskett’s camper, a kerosene heater cranks out warmth with a side of noxious fumes. He vents the place, he said.
The best solution to all of this, Clewis said, would be to get the Salvation Army store back open. That would force a move, and it would put people to work.
The store closed in early 2021 after someone who was drag racing down Hendersonville Road ran into the front of it. When the Salvation Army started renovating, the city required better metal beams in it, and with COVID-19 supply chain issues, it took a long time for them to come in.
And then the roof needed some work, which has been completed. Clewis said the Arden building has two HVAC units on the back, and “one or both of them had been vandalized by the homeless.”
The back side of the former store is littered with mattresses and clothes, and apparently it’s become a small camping area for the unhoused.
Still, Clewis said, the store is almost ready to reopen.
“I’ve just got to get it cleaned up on the inside some,” Clewis said. “But other than that, I just can’t find anybody who wants to work.”
Yes, it’s ironic.
Plaskett assured Clewis on Thursday that he’d work on cleaning up the items outside and try to get squared away for a move.
On Friday morning, Clewis said Plaskett had texted him to say he needed more time.
“Hopefully, we can find him a location to move his vehicle to,” Clewis said.
It seems like such a simple thing to hope for.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
He needs to just scrap everything and take the cash and go start back down south where he wants to be… Simple, I have had to do it several times…
In this instance it is as plain on any sane person that any ” kindness” is enableing . The guy is playing you and you take it hook line and sinker . No wonder we have a homeless problem .
John, very insightful article. Thank you.
I find it interesting that no one has commented yet ( a full day in). Maybe just coincidence.
The person highlighted in this article helps clarify a signficant part of the homeless problem. If you know a bit about the range and type of personality disorders, you can pretty clearly see that this man’s behavior clearly fits somewhere within those spectrums.
These people are not “mentally ill” as we tend to think of say, schizophrenia. But borderline personality disorder, for example more often than not results in life degrading choices and actions. The affected person usually is able to “function” for some time, but because the disorder is so difficult to treat (the person doesn’t/won’t believe they are the problem), often by the time age 40 or 50 rolls around, so many bad decisions/choices have been made, they end up “on the streets”. Family and friends have abandonded them.
Disorder personalities can look normal and often times act normal but there is enough disordered thinking and behavior that over time, their life falls apart.
These people are often quite manipulative in their relationships, stories and explanations for not doing what more functioning people would do.
And of course, when drugs or alcohol enter the scene, that only compounds the disordered behavior.
If you haven’t experienced or known of a situation involving a disordered personality, then you can’t understand this. But if you have, you know full well that enabling this type of personality is a dead end street. Experienced police officers (if there are any around these days) know it all too well. So did judges and jailers in times past.
In times past, these people were not welcomed in a community to squat or freeload. If they didn’t move on, they were arrested and ultimately they would move on to someplace more “welcoming” or tolerant.
For those in this group of homeless that do more serious crime, jail was and still is the only solution. People today cry out that jail doesn’t “fix them”. That is correct and largely because these people aren’t “fixable”. What jail does provide is relief for the greater good of society, so viewed in that light, it does “fix” the problem.
Remember the wise Japanese saying that is an anathema to so many in America, “It can’t be helped”, (e.g., we can’t fix everything in life).
Mike’s right when he says: “If you haven’t experienced or known of a situation involving a disordered personality, then you can’t understand this. But if you have, you know full well that enabling this type of personality is a dead end street.” I’m curious to know who among our local elected officials and city leaders (or even Mr. Boyle) actually have first-hand experience (as I do). Who among them would allow a family member or friend such as this man (with his lifetime of bad decisions and excuses) to park his camper on their property, and for how long? As much as I’d like to help, I have a pretty good idea how things would work out if I allowed this man onto my property. I want to help those who put forth effort and will follow through when they promise to do something and don’t always have another story or excuse.
This is all so very interesting and informative. Just maybe we could have a little less of this kind of “reporting” ..and a bit less of this “reporter” ? Just a thought. sigh. (… and maybe check your website “hits” …see what kind of curve you all have tracking after going way too far down this path ??)
Lots of questions, no answers. Nothing new there. Asheville is not the only community wrestling this problem. Are there examples/ solutions / ideas other communities are trying? Are our leaders looking for strategies or simply wringing there hands like the rest of us?
You wrote: “Sure, the unraveling often involves bad decisions and failure to take responsibility. But bad luck often dogs these folks, too”. You make it sound like “luck” is some ephemeral thing that follow people around like some winged urchins.
I’m a believer in the maxim “Luck, is when opportunity and preparation collide.” Plaskett apparently has the time and gumption to have planned (i.e., preparation) “felony breaking and entering, and felony larceny after breaking and entering”.
Humans like Plaskett are feral people, the world has always had them, and the world will always have them. As another commenter here said using a Japanese saying “It [they] can’t be helped”.
Moral =, put your personal energy and money where it can do some long lasting good and help. Hard wired feral people should not be the recipients.
The trend here is common with many of these folks- total unwillingness to accept any responsibility. Everything isn’t their fault. And after they burn every bridge and screw over every person who tries to help them they end up “without options”, even though there always are options, just not ones they want to use.
The Salvation Army has given him money and allowed him to stay, and how does he repay that? By scattering junk and trash all around and making a huge mess. Nobody would have noticed or complained about just the camper, its the mess that draws attention. This should tell us a lot, even people who go out of their way to help him get rewarded by him creating more problems for them.
He lost his moving business due to a “legal situation” last year. OK, so why not work since then? I drive that road daily, I can look at the map and see 30+ places that are hiring now within walking distance of where he is located. And these are ones that yes, will hire him on probation.
But I bet he has lots of excuses why he isn’t working.
His felony convictions are just from a “misunderstanding”, sure. You don’t get all the way through arrest, the DA’s review, trial and conviction on multiple felonies just over a “misunderstanding”. But claiming such is just another case of not taking responsibility and blaming everything on someone else, anyone else.
He had something going at Dennys, and burned those bridges too, then just called it “drama” and saying it wasn’t his fault.
I am sure family members don’t help not because they can’t, but because he burned those bridges too.
I have been there, don’t all this with someone just like him. The attitudes and responses are so similar that I could almost swap the names. Everything wasn’t his fault, still isn’t. All his problems are caused by others, he is always the victim, he is going to change things “soon” and always has a plan. He just needs a little more help, a little more time, just like he did last week, last month, last year. And if you don’t help, then everything is your fault.
Eventually everyone reaches the point where they get fed up. Even places like the Salvation Army that exist to help people. Because you can’t help people who won’t help themselves.
He could walk down to any of dozens of places nearby and have a job within 72 hours and a first paycheck in a week or two, if he wanted. He could sell the one non-running vehicle to fund repairs on the camper. He could respect the fact that the Salvation Army is being generous in letting him park there and not trash their parking lot, that wouldn’t cost him a penny.
But he won’t do any of that, and I am sure he has excuses….
Exactly, and this is why those who think that building massive quantities of ‘affordable housing’ (whatever that is) will fix everything are absolutely dead wrong.
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