When it comes to downtown Asheville, I’ve personally witnessed a lot of ebb and flow, as I worked in the city’s core for a quarter century.

Recently, it’s been way more ebb than flow — and it’s not pretty to watch.

To be crystal clear, downtown Asheville has always been a little gritty, weird and fun, all wrapped into one. I still love downtown and go there regularly. When visitors come into town, we’ll hit the galleries and maybe a restaurant.

It’s still a vibrant downtown that outshines what most cities have to offer. But I noticed a change about three years ago, just before the pandemic hit.

Walking on a sidewalk in front of the Grove Arcade with a couple of coworkers, we saw a young, shirtless guy walking toward us at high speed, talking to himself and appearing highly agitated. As he intentionally passed through us, causing us to separate, he threw his elbows out, trying to make contact with someone.

It was just odd, as most of the regulars we’d see downtown were pretty chill. Some of these people might ask for money or a smoke, but that was about it.

It’s not like I was terrified, but this dude seemed very aggressive, almost like he wanted a confrontation — enough so that it stuck in my mind as out of the ordinary.

Fast forward three years, and this has become all too common, and the behavior even more aggressive. Business owners and downtown workers certainly have noticed the change — the belligerent encounters, the threats, the trash, the crime, as we reported in the opening article in our series, Down Town.

They’ve also noticed the needles and human excrement on the sidewalks and in the alleys.

Folks, it’s not like this is a bunch of whiny, entitled business owners complaining about having to rub elbows with poor people, or about privileged people “clutching their pearls” and lacking compassion for people clearly in need of mental health and substance abuse health. In fact, I’d say just about all of the employees and merchants we talked to downtown were caring people who want to see more and better help for people who are struggling — and we visited three dozen businesses.

Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell (center) waiting to attend a meeting March 1 to discuss concerns of downtown business owners. The meeting was called by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

On Wednesday, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting downtown to hear from downtown business owners about issues they’re seeing. About 70 people attended and another 50 couldn’t get in, and some of those who spoke described incidents even worse than what we reported, including armed robberies.

Public Safety and Unacceptable Behavior

This issue, and this series The Watchdog is doing, are about public safety and about behaviors that are dangerous, aggressive, and sometimes violent. This affects everybody who goes downtown — hourly workers trying to make ends meet, business owners trying to keep employees safe, people on the streets who are trying to survive, locals looking to enjoy a night out, and yes, tourists who would like to enjoy a good downtown restaurant or an art gallery.

Everybody has a right to feel safe in our town. That’s not an outrageous ask.

I think we can all agree that some behaviors are just unacceptable in a civilized society, and that includes screaming at cashiers and threatening violence, or relieving your bowels or dropping a bloody needle on a public sidewalk where children walk.

Couple this uptick of aggressive, unpredictable, and sometimes gross behavior with a noticeable decline in police presence, and it is, as a restaurant owner recently told me, feeling like the Wild West downtown. We’ll look at the police issues and staffing in our next installment, by the way, and we also plan to write stories about the homeless, about drug addiction and mental health care, and other issues contributing to this.

So stay tuned.

Through this series, we also hope to spur conversation about the future vitality of our downtown, which has certainly seen decay and despair before, and not all that long ago. If the series brings about change or improvements, that’s great, but that will be up to city officials — with the input of residents, merchants, the homeless, and others with skin in the game.

But this much is clear: What’s going on now is not sustainable for anyone.

This is a complex problem with roots in drug abuse, skyrocketing housing costs, increasing numbers of unhoused people, inadequate care for those with addiction or mental health problems, trouble recruiting police officers, and much, much more. But sticking our heads in the sand, or pretending the problem isn’t there because “it’s just a bunch of business people complaining” is shortsighted, and well, ridiculous.

‘Meth has really changed the landscape’

Again, unacceptable behavior is the problem, and that can come from beer-laden drunks, local criminals, rowdy bridal parties, disrespectful tourists, and more. But a theme emerged in talking with business owners and employees: We’re seeing a different type of homeless or transient people, often younger and apparently high on potent drugs, particularly meth.

Last week, I participated in a ride-along with Asheville Police Capt. Michael Lamb, and he too said they’ve noticed a different kind of homeless person downtown: more agitated, often aggressive or violent, and very unpredictable. 

He said the culprit is no great mystery: methamphetamine. While plenty of people still consume standbys such as alcohol and opioids, those substances generally cause a more mellow reaction.

Meth is a different animal. Lamb said you can often spot users by their erratic, high-energy behavior, known as “tweaking.” We saw it firsthand about 9:30 p.m. in Pritchard Park. 

A homeless guy, drenched in sweat despite temperatures in the fifties, couldn’t stop talking, pacing, sitting, standing and clutching himself. His hair glistened with perspiration, and his shirt was soaked through.

Meth has really changed the landscape of what we see downtown.

Asheville police capt. michael lamb

He talked about working construction the next morning, but if he made it there I’d be amazed. He sat down, stood up, and paced some more, sometimes bending over as he walked.

It was like his body was fighting itself, maybe wanting to calm down but unable to do so. Honestly, it was sad as hell, but I can also see how if you’re trying to walk to your car after work it would be scary, too.

He’s a small guy, and Lamb checked on him to make sure he was okay. The man said another homeless man had punched him in the chest earlier that night, but he didn’t want to file a report.

Welcome to Your City Park sign downtown. Recent troubles prompted city officials to list behaviors that “Park guests” are prohibited from doing, including using obscene language, violence or threats of violence, littering, creating a disturbance, defacing or damaging property, possession of weapons, drugs, or alcohol, smoking or vaping, personal bathing, failing to be fully clothed, camping or sleeping, panhandling, defecating, and urinating. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego.

After a few minutes, he walked off, stripping his shirt off, still talking to himself.

“Meth has really changed the landscape of what we see downtown,” Lamb told me as we rode around, again mentioning that they used to deal mostly with people high on cocaine, or drunk. “Their behavior was somewhat predictable, and you knew who were the nice drunks, versus the mean drunks. But the meth use has really caused a lot of mean and unpredictable behavior, and that’s why you have a lot of business owners that are afraid to confront people any more.”

Talk to merchants, workers, and business owners downtown, and you’ll hear a similar tale: Downtown has gotten much worse in the past couple of years, as far as public safety and cleanliness. The people who live and work downtown are scared and worried — and some of these people have been downtown for decades and seen the downtown at its darkest hour in modern history.

Downtown has seen ugly times before

For you newcomers, that was the 1980s, after all the stores had relocated to the mall area off Tunnel Road the previous decade, leaving behind boarded-up buildings occupied mostly by pigeons, and the raccoons that would feed on pigeon eggs. A porno theater occupied what is now the Fine Arts Theatre, and prostitutes had regular routes they plied.

Everyone’s feeling very unsafe, very traumatized from just going to work to collect a paycheck.

karis ROBERTS, bartender

Downtown essentially died, until a group of visionaries in the 1990s brought it back to life, and then it exploded in the early aughts. And now it looks like downtown is once again cycling through an ugly phase.

My Watchdog colleague, Andrew Jones, attended the Wednesday meeting organized by the Chamber and TDA, and he shared some comments with me from those attending.

Amanda Ball, manager at the Highland Brewing Downtown Taproom in the S&W building, said employees and guards in the building had witnessed people appearing to be homeless “entering the building using our public bathrooms to perform sexual favors in exchange for money and drugs.”

Ball described a man who came at employees during closing with a two-by-four and “then took his aggression out on a parked car in the back alleyway.”

Karis Roberts, a bartender at The Wedge Brewing Co.’s location in the Grove Arcade, said, “Everyone’s feeling very unsafe, very traumatized from just going to work to collect a paycheck.”

Roberts said she and her coworkers have been trained in first aid and Narcan, a nasal treatment used to bring people out of an overdose. 

Karis Roberts, employee at Wedge brewery, and Lucious Wilson, general manager (standing), said employees fear going to work. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Yes, other areas of Asheville, whether the River Arts District or West Asheville, are just as important, or even moreso, to the people who live and work there than downtown, which tends to get all the love and attention. People living in public housing also need more police protection and shouldn’t have to fear for their lives when walking to the car.

And yes, a hundred times, we need more affordable housing, drug treatment programs, and mental health care.

But like it or not, in the here and now, downtown, probably along with the Biltmore Estate, is an economic engine that keeps thousands of people employed, generates an enormous amount of taxes, and yes, draws millions of tourists. The tourism machine here is huge: In 2021, 12.5 million visitors spent $2.6 billion across local businesses in Buncombe County, according to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority.

Look, we all know downtowns ebb and flow. 

When I started working on O. Henry Avenue in 1997, the Grove Arcade was an ugly, bricked-up former federal office building, and when you walked to your car at night it was common to get propositioned by a male prostitute. I remember being excited a new “restaurant” had opened in the Flatiron Building on Battery Park Avenue, until I ordered a tuna sandwich and the “chef” literally opened a can of StarKist in front of me, added mayonnaise and slapped it on Wonder Bread.

Trust me, downtown used to be a real dump. Now it’s a gem.

But it’s looking pretty dusty and chipped up right now. The city better wake up and start polishing.

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 jboyle@avlwatchdog.org

66 replies on “Opinion: Yes, downtown has taken a turn for the worse, and sticking our heads in the sand won’t help”

  1. More cops are not the answer. Stormtroopers patrolling our streets to keep the disadvantaged out of sight might make wealthy tourists more comfortable, but the citizens of Asheville do not want to live in a police state. These people that you constantly demonize need help, not to be harassed by cops threatening them with violence. Entitled white people who think calling the cops is the answer to everything that makes them uncomfortable need to wake up and find some compassion. I started reading the Asheville watchdog because I thought it was actual independent, common sense reporting for the citizens of this town, not just a mouthpiece for privileged business owners who want to whitewash and sterilize the area, removing anyone and anything that makes them have to acknowledge their privilege. This is truly shameful reporting.

    1. You really do have your head in the sand. This can’t be pinned on racism, even though plenty of people twist hard to make it seem so. Downtown has become dangerous for everyone, and that is unacceptable. The vagrants and tweakers aren’t getting helped by your self-rightous sermonizing either . Forced treatment is the only solution yet people like you scream about that too as violation of rights. So put your money where your mouth is and invite one into your guest room and get back to us on how it goes. We’ll await your wise prescription for action, if you survive the experience.

      1. You beat me to it, Jt. Thanks. Will add that if he cares for the “disadvantaged” on his property, good for him. But I bet he won’t go that far because of the probability of needing the police that he so clearly despises. And Cidny further down has a nice reply to him as well.

      2. My ex girlfriend convinced me to let a recovering heroin addict live with us for a few weeks. She ended up robbing the house and disappearing. I can’t say I was very surprised

    2. Well well well! Asheville is dealing with the democrat’s in charge terrible leadership. What a surprise. Excellent! Democrats have and still are ruining other cities so why the raised eyebrows? The out of state liberal democrats ran to Asheville after they ruined their former communities and now their ruining Asheville. So pay reparations and defund law enforcement, encourage All violent homeless drug addicts to get here as fast as possible and then watch the democrats start bullying citizens and business owners to put up with crime, homelessness running off business, etc because the citizens and business owners are Racists. You get what you vote for Asheville.

        1. There’s literally not a single “right” thing factually in that entire screeching rant. A close second to the progressives who refuse to rationally confront the problems in Asheville are the nasty conservatives who actually love seeing mentally ill drug addicts destroying their lives and the city so they can own the libs. They have much less interest in solving a single problem helping anything be better for everyone because the goal of their exist is to troll. Pathetic.

      1. Isn’t meth illegal and the use of, also being high on meth illegal? There was no problem ( since the article mentions the 90’s) in the 90’s targeting a specific drug that was suggested to be the root of the problem for harsh sentencing. If meth is the problem then what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, what’s different from this group of drug using criminal thugs? If the city needs more police then they should be out there locking up these super predators on our streets.

    3. Public safety and public health are civil rights. That applies to all races, ethnicities, genders, and age and income demographics. Leave right-wing and left-wing sensibilities, politics and slogans out of what is a complex discussion. The genuinely homeless need compassionate help as do those with serious drug and mental health problems. The genuinely violent and criminal need to be arrested and prosecuted. Line employees throughout Asheville need to feel safe; they also need affordable housing. Businesses need customers…including tourists (the city’s only major economic engine)…to remain viable. The artisans and musicians who make a living in our creative spaces and give Asheville its unique character need the city’s artistic and bohemian vibe to continue. Local activists who have been fighting for racial, economic and gender equity and tolerance here need to feel they are still being heard and respected. Public safety officers need to be trained to the highest standards to navigate these varied community needs, and be rewarded accordingly so we get and keep the best. None of this can be reworked and sustained in an increasingly unsafe, unhealthy, dirty environment. Resolution requires openness, transparency, real dialogue, compromise and strong leadership. Not easy, but essential because Asheville is at a tipping point.

      1. One of the best comments I’ve read anywhere not only about Asheville but other places as well. Well done.

        1. Thank you, deeply appreciated. “Strong leadership” is the conundrum here, sorely lacking right now. Someone has to make decisions that are for the betterment of all concerned, but be strong enough to take the hits that WILL come from hard-bound single-issue ideologues from activists on multiple sides including city council. No easy task in a town like Asheville.

    4. Honestly agree. Maybe they should see if there is any way to get these folks help/rehab/ long term hospitalization over throwing more cops at the problem. They may need more cops too but lets be honest — thats a band aid.

      My mom is an ER nurse and my in laws are both cops and even pre pandemic they would have the same addicts and homeless folks file in and out of the hospital multiple times a day just to get something to eat/meds/etc. They would threaten self harm so they have a warm place to sleep.

      These kinda issues aren’t a dem/repub or business owner/homeless thing. This is a working class vs owning class thing. Look back and there used to be more facilities (however flawed) to deal with the more erratic or violent homeless and mentally ill.

      I know most business owners are working hard like employees and everyone is trying to survive. Business owners and workers have a lot more in common with homeless people than the rich/absent property investor out of Atlanta.

    5. that’s insane to think that homeless meth addicts are just working class people down on their luck. You have this big talk about “getting people help” but you don’t want that to be an involuntary thing. Everyone in Asheville and in this country needs to say and believe that it is fundamentally wrong to allow, facilitate, and engage in this kind of behavior.

  2. if the citizens of Asheville do not want ” a police state”, that is their decision to make. but there are reprecussions to this decision that include less locals who live outside asheville coming downtown and less tourists (which might be a good thing actually). however, this means less money coming in in the form of sales, income, and property taxes. by this i mean some businesses might close do to less traffic. this means less property tax money coming in if downtown becomes empty of stores. also less sales tax reciepts coming into the cities coffers. i also believe that this would greatly affect the employment of a lot of hospitality people if tourists stop coming do to a percieved or real worry about safety. this affects income tax coming in. So if asheville wants to be a “cop free zone”, i say more power too you all. but as i stated at the beginning, this decision comes with reprecussions, including most importantly, a serious increase to property taxes for all of you to make up the shortfalls to cities budget that will arise.

    1. Meth is literally everywhere, regardless of how many cops there are. And as a lifetime Asheville/WNC resident with progressive leanings, I have literally never heard a serious person say they want to live in a “cop-free zone.” Is it too much to ask for a good-faith argument?

  3. Besides not having adequate police staffing, someone needs to look into the courts of Buncombe County and in particular the magistrates who won’t put these people in jail and get them off the streets. I think APD could write a book on this side of the crime equation and have decided its not worth their efforts to arrest people for vagrancy as the court simply lets them go back on the street.

    Many of these people (not all) show no personal responsibility and frankly, are quite willing to take advantage of Asheville’s ‘compassion’. Much to our detriment.

  4. People report feeling more unsafe—and that’s a shame. But the APD’s own crime stats dashboard shows a small but consistent two years of *reductions* in both assaults and vandalism.

    I am by no means saying that assaults and vandalism are okay and that folks should just live with them.

    But I am saying that there needs to be some realism and fact-checking around “feeling unsafe.” It is indisputably distressing to see our fellow human beings behaving erratically, or visibly down-and-out and at risk. It makes us realize how vulnerable we all are—how easily we too, given bad circumstances, could slip through the safety net and become pitiful outcasts.

    Much of our population is one medical catastrophe away from bankruptcy, one lost job away from homelessness, one bad choice away from addiction, family estrangement and loss of social support. And, frankly, no one wants to be reminded of that. It’s scary. It would be much “nicer” not be reminded of the harsh realities of our broken systems.

    The people who are defecating on the street aren’t doing it because they want to—it’s not FUN. They’re doing it because we have no public toilet facilities easily available. Or they’re doing it because they’re too sick/strung out to control their bowels, too out of it to find a discreet corner.

    The tweaking guy you encountered was much more likely to harm himself than you. Of course it’s scary to see someone who appears to have lost control. The reality: he didn’t and most likely won’t harm anyone. That’s the statistical fact of the matter.

    It is the VISIBILITY that causes the feelings of vulnerability.

    The VISIBILITY should be propelling us to action, to an acknowledgement of the ways that our society is failing so many and a commitment to redressing those harms. Criminalization and punishment are not the answer, although they may comfort some by reinforcing the idea that those at the margins of society are all bad people and somehow deserve the horrible, desperate conditions they find themselves in.

    But these are human beings, just like us. They don’t deserve to be swept under the rug, to be chased further into the darkness, to be ground up in the brutal mill of the carceral system.

    We can and must do better.

    1. So what exactly are you proposing as a solution? Millions have been thrown at the crisis with little to show for it. Most of the homeless causing the problems don’t have the self control or desire to handle taking care of any housing given to them and would refuse it anyway. So I repeat, what exactly are you proposing to make downtown less dangerous? If not jail, what?? No more moralizing…give actual solutions.

      1. We should reinstate state run/public mental health hospitals for long term stay. The veteran guy or homeless teen needs a place to sleep and a warm meal. The violent mentally ill need to be taken to specialized care — not a jail cell.

    2. Ms. tovish, i think maybe the “reductions” you refer to might be because some crimes are now under reported due to citizens knowing the police response will be slow and have decided not to bother reporting some crimes.

    3. Nina, thanks for your contributions. I think you always take a thoughtful approach to issues which I appreciate.

      I am a female Downtown business owner and arts advocate in the community and I will tell you why you see a reduction in arrest statistics: WE SIMPLY DON’T CALL ANYMORE. APD has told our business that unless we intend to press charges, they do not have the capacity to respond. Period. This is very new and different in the last 2 years, to how it worked in the past. And even when there is an instance that we’re willing to go to the lengths of pressing charges (vandalism, threats, etc) the response time is so long that the perpetrator is usually long gone. We’ve given up.
      Talk to other employees and managers downtown and I can almost guarantee they’ll tell you the same. I have personally experienced this on more than one occasion, and I’m just one business. I was on a recent call with other downtown arts and business community members and the number of stories of women being followed, muggings, businesses experiencing vandalism, etc. was egregious.

      I have worked downtown for nearly 20 years and I have seen the ebbs and flows. I am not easily scared, I have seen it all.

      This is different now. It simply is.

      It is about optics – as you say – to an extent, yes, and though that’s unpleasant to admit, it’s a fact that does impact the decision that patrons make when they choose whether or not to support my downtown businesses or other choices. As businesses, we have to care about optics, and we do. We have to have customers. We can’t be put in a position where customers avoid us because their experience is so unpleasant downtown that other choices become more attractive. This would be true regardless of whether there was any real safety concern or not.

      However, there is indeed a real safety concern. It is about much more than optics. It is also about actual public safety. Talk to downtown workers; we will tell you.

    4. Your crime stats won’t reflect the reality on the ground when a DA drops most of the charges, if you use convictions as the metric. If the DA drops charges or trespassing, vandalism, and theft against someone when they don’t show up in court because they don’t want to go to the effort of doing the right thing and adding Failure to Appear charges, in the crime stats it looks like those crimes never happened. Been there, saw that with very real crimes that harmed me and then all the charges were dropped when the person didn’t show up.

      If you use arrests and citations as the metric and your police department is so understaffed they can’t respond to calls, then the number of arrests and citations will go down simply because there are not enough cops to respond. It doesn’t mean the crime didn’t happen. Likewise if the cops know every Second Degree Trespassing charge gets dropped, they stop issuing citations for it. So the trespassing still happened, but all the cops do is run the people off.

      On top of that when citizens and people who work in Asheville see all that happen they stop even bothering to report anything. Why call and report your car being broken in to when nothing happens, just call the insurance company and go on. Why call and report the shoplifter when APD doesn’t have the manpower to respond? Bike stolen? Post it on social media and hope somebody sees it, no point in calling APD when they don’t have any officers to send out.

      But all that crime that doesn’t get reported is still real.

      Nobody is talking about criminalizing homelessness, they are talking abut enforcing the existing laws against that portion of the homeless population who is violating the law constantly. Not locking up the person who is down on their luck but working to change the situation and is still respectful of the community around them. But yes, locking up the person who steals, assaults people, harasses people, defecates on the street (despite your defense of that, there is always an alternative that is better, even if its go into a plastic bag and throw it away. If I am expected to clean my dogs fecal matter up, these folks can clean their own up).

  5. This didn’t happen overnight. Asheville’s wages have not kept up with the cost of living for decades. Meth was huge here 20 years ago. Then the opiate crisis took over, now its meth again. The opiate damage to society has very long term consequences. NC is getting 750 million to address that apparently. Nobody gets better without a roof over their heads and drug addiction recovery rates are pretty dismal in optimal conditions. Some people turn to meth to get off of opiates, some say its easier to get off meth than heroin. There are people all over this area living in their cars, nobody mentions that. When the car breaks down, you end up on the street. There are plenty of working homeless. Been to a McDonalds lately? It could happen to anyone without a support system or family to fall back on. Covid kills and maims. There is much trauma, loss and grief among us. Be kind and help those you can. Don’t paint the homeless as all aggressive, violent drug addicts. some are, but many have run out of options and money.

  6. There’s a huge difference between someone holding a sign asking for money, and a person coming at you with a 2X4, a bottle, or a knife. I’m a senior citizen who lives on Tunnel Rd, and I was verbally harassed for at the (tunnel) Ingles bus stop in fall 2021, by a high-as-a-kite man with an alcohol bottle in hand, who screamed non-stop obscenities at me while his girlfriend stood by, mute. On 02/27/2023, one of the residents of my senior complex was beaten about the head in broad daylight while sitting and waiting for the bus at Buckstone Pl. The attack was unprovoked, and he was transported by ambulance to the hospital. We have many senior residents here who take the bus, and everyone is very afraid. I’m grateful for the security guards present at the ART station. The residents of Maple Crest are pleading for more police patrols and increased security, so stop bleating about this being a white privilege issue. Those of us who are low-income are just as much, if not more, affected by this explosion of violent and criminal activity as the rich tourists renting the AirBnBs, the fancy hotel rooms, and visiting downtown.

  7. I’m sorry that Joseph thinks more cops is not the answer, but it is part of the solution to Asheville’s current problems. Our city’s population has grown and the number of cops has been significantly reduced. Look at Greenville SC, which has bicycle cops in downtown, making everyone walking there feel so much safer than in Asheville, as an example of what we could and should be doing again here. Also, the ‘White Priveleged’ people Joseph refers to, are the people who have invested and risked huge amounts of their hard earned money, their time, and their hard work to make Asheville the thriving town that it once again has become. They deserve to be respected and their businesses protected against theft, arson, and property and physical criminal attacks. Their employees and customers as well should be able to access these businesses without being molested or having to step over or around bodies, needles or human excrement. This is not White Privelege, it’s Common Sense.

  8. There have always (I repeat always) people in our (any) society that can’t/won’t live by the rules accepted as necessary for the ‘greater good’.

    We can/should/and do try and help, but unless they show some level of personal accountability, society needs to be tough minded.

    Compassion is one thing, but when it moves into the realm of enabling destructive behaviour, that is NOT compassion.

  9. I love the John Boyle’s…. “Folks… “, “For you newcomers..”, and of course “Trust me…” ….please, anymore patronizing and you’ll be ready for your inaugural run for public office….ugh. Personally, I thought downtown Asheville in the 1980’s was just fine…. no mass tourism, no discernible homeless problem, plenty of parking, a few galleries, a few restaurants [the Market Place… sorry, no tuna sandwiches there, lol] and a fine bookstore [Malaprops] …and of course some of the finest art deco architecture found in the US. Asheville now is where hubris meets reality…. always messy…. and so much to cover with this stellar journalism!

  10. @nina…you stated, “But the APD’s own crime stats dashboard shows a small but consistent two years of *reductions* in both assaults and vandalism”.

    Could this be a result of people not reporting the assaults and vandalism knowing the police don’t show up? Many business owners have reported calling the police but because the department is too short staffed officers don’t show up.

    At yesterday’s meeting, business owners and employees shared many situations where they been harassed and assaulted but are not reporting it due to a lack of staffing. Given this, aren’t those dashboard statistics skewed and therefore not adequately reflecting what is actually going on..thoughts?

  11. I repeat, if someone spends money downtown at a restaurant, brewery/pub, movie or play, or at a retail store, they are spending “discretionary funds”. If they spend their discretionary funds downtown, it’s because they want to, versus the many other places they can spend their money. We no longer patronize downtown Asheville businesses because we do not feel safe (physically and health wise), so our money is going somewhere else and supporting other businesses.

    For us, walking in downtown Asheville and using its parking garages is akin to walking down a path known to be infested with copperhead snakes; we just won’t do it.

    And this notion that police are Gestapo equivalents comes from, I think, anarchists.

    Clean up downtown Asheville or you will never see our money again. You want tourism, then be like the Biltmore Estate, Disneyworld or Dollywood and hire security (i.e., police) and disallow and prosecute all the downtown illegal activity.

  12. ……and, duh, so right you are: “the tourism machine here is huge: “12.5 million visitors spent $2.6 billion” ..THIS IS THE PROBLEM. Ever hear of Key West, the French Quarter in Nola et al? And Asheville’s TDA -with its ever swelling slush fund- is a serious problem as well (..those million dollar banners at the US Open are paying extraordinary -and unexpected- dividends, huh? 😉 What’s not a problem? …well, like most locals I no longer venture downtown unless it’s absolutely necessary. It’s the retailer’s, restaurant’s, brewery’s, hotel’s et al problem ..you know, the ones busily catering to and profiting off the “tourism machine”. …oh, and the well off retirees that [now] foolishly bought uber expensive condos downtown… it’s their problem too. But, definitely not my/our problem… as much as you want to make it such. …but yeah, best of luck with all of it ….you’re going to need it.

    1. What about all the local people like me who make a solid – though not exactly upper middle class – living bartending & serving at those restaurants and bars? Running those galleries? Operating our florist shops? Organizing those downtown events? Working in those hotels? Working as managers at Malaprops? Working at the banks? Running educational programs at AMOS? We NEED downtown to earn our living. Should all of us just eff off too? Where do you suggest we go work? Is there some other area that will absorb several thousand hard working and talented employees so we don’t have to our uproot our lives and families here, since, as you so callously and insensitively opine, the failure of downtown is “not your problem”? Maybe you suggest we go eat cake.

      1. no, I certainly don’t suggest you eat cake. I was, very clearly, referring to the proprietors/ owners of these business catering to Asheville’s mass tourism industry when I wrote that this was their problem, not mine or ours. Asheville is clearly a desirable destination for the homeless for one reason and one reason only… this “industry”. The city of Asheville clearly has a revenue addiction problem in regard to this now “vital industry” …so it’s their problem too, obviously. Keep in mind that the homeless are a symptom, not the problem…. the homeless come here because we’re now a major east coast destination site ( ..think “beer city”, sigh). I am simply saying this is not our problem…. those of us who have no connection to this “industry” and don’t live near downtown ..thankfully. As for all the hard working people in the hospitality/ mass tourism businesses in Asheville.. I feel bad for them ..not because they’re going to lose their jobs (..you really think this “industry” is going away anytime soon?) ..but because of the increasingly difficult working conditions you’re dealing with in regard to the surge of drugged raging homeless people (..let’s refrain from calling them vagrants while we’re at it and busy pretending we’re humans, okay?). But again, this really is your and your employer’s problem, and the city of Asheville’s problem ..and of course the mostly very well off denizens of Asheville who happen to live in, or in close proximity, to the downtown area -but it’s not ours.. those of us whom have no connection to the mass tourism “industry” ( ..and whom, frankly, would like to see it go away for the most part ..which it won’t.. nor will the homeless). You’ll be fine ..you’re part and parcel of the machine that now can’t be turned off basically. Honestly, best of luck with all of it. Still not my problem despite John Boyle’s shrill efforts to make it mine/ours. And, if it’s any consolation… we’re the ones more likely to be moving away from Asheville at some future point ..we won’t be missed 😉

        1. You pining for the Asheville of the 1980s was really something. I’d suggest you move to somewhere in Ohio or the mountains of Kentucky. Everyone, starting with yourself, would likely be happier.

    2. I agree with Voirdire. Take your over priced businesses and all your tourist income and leave. The vagrants and homeless will follow you out.

  13. Just a thought — If the police department doesn’t have enough officers to patrol and protect people downtown Asheville is it time for the sheriff’s department to lend a hand since Asheville is within the county? Sheriff’s duties per the sheriff’s website: “Proper and professional response to the public’s calls for service is the primary commitment and focus of the Sheriff’s Patrol Division. We strive daily to offer quick responses with the most professional service possible to the residents of Buncombe County. Integrity, dignity, and professionalism are the guiding principles that govern our actions, and we hold all our actions accountable to the residents of Buncombe County at all times.” A sheriff’s department captain once told me that his officers have the authority to arrest anywhere within the county – even in police stations. Was he correct?

    1. James Neel, the problem with that is there are also limited deputies, and BC is so large that they are already stretched thin. Then, BC Jail is so short staffed they are pulling deputies off of the road to control those that have been arrested, in all of Buncombe County from APD and BCSO. Its just one problem after another when it comes to staffing police, deputies, jail guards, etc.

      1. agreed. I once attended a community meeting with the sheriff and he told us 16 deputies were on duty at any given time in a very large county.

        1. And this was a couple of yrs. ago (pre pandemic). i am sure the # is less now, certainly not more, that’s for sure.

  14. “Housing first” model works wonders in other cities. Wassau Pilot and Review had a good article about it.

    1. i believe the city of Coronado, California has an approach that also seems to have had good results. No encampments allowed, you are given 2 choices, come get help we will pay for, or talk to the officers here about your alternatives.

  15. So you’re doing a ride along with APD—when are you going to spend a day with someone who is living outside? More stigmatizing coverage that is fodder for gentrification,m and the Business Improvement District they’ve been planning behind closed doors. The sad thing is these businesses who are complaining could get priced out in a couple of years because of the fallout from this.

  16. Imagine catering to the businesses in asheville and telling complete lies about the people here. oh no 1% if even of the homeless have a bad rep, how about you spend some time with the homeless and realize we arent the problem…

  17. I would love to see bicycle cops and cops on horseback again in downtown Asheville. They were a very obvious presence (especially the horses) and popular with locals and tourists. And I believe they were a great deterrent to bad behavior downtown. I also appreciated seeing pairs of police officers walking around downtown. These officers didn’t make the city look like a police state but did make people feel safer.

    I’m a local (since 1980) who used to love going downtown but I avoid it now except during the day. We go downtown for lunch, not dinner. I used to park in the parking garages and walk all over town shopping but now look for spaces right in front of the business I’m visiting.

  18. If Tourism generates $2.6billion, then local taxpayers (and even guests of our city) are being short-changed on what the TDA spends and has spent on infrastructure. They could finance an extra police force on bicycle or horseback (as mentioned above). No shit. And yes, I know I’m beating a dead horse. (By the way, some unhoused people have never really been residents here and could also be called ‘tourists’…)

  19. Thank you very much for covering this unfortunate situation. You and the Asheville Watchdog are doing our town a great service, something the “town paper” (Asheville Citizen Times) has resisted for way too long.

  20. This growing dangerous problem needs attention from many angles. While all the other options are being considered, debated or whatever is happening Asheville (and the good citizens of) needs effective policing. Sooner rather than later.

  21. So now we have a dangerous city and also a dangerous hospital. The state and local leadership on both issues is abysmal. Corporate thugs and street thugs have taken over what was once a nice place to live. Now its unaffordable for most and unsafe for all.

    1. And some dangerous tourists as well! Last year some ‘visitors’ from Florida OD’ed at the Grove Park Inn. No arrests, no follow-up. The whole thing got swept under the rug…if that’s okay, why not put some of these street thugs up for a few nights in an historic inn? At the very least, the mayor should have made a statement that tourists will be held to the same standards as locals.

      1. If that had happened at the motel 6, they would have been arrested. The Omni didn’t want the story getting out that their fancy hotel served as a drug den for wayward tourists. The media in Asheville (WLOS and ACT) is controlled by the corporate overlords as well. That’s why we need AVL Watchdog more than ever and we need more fearless investigative journalists to join them.

        1. Absolutely. What we should do is rent a couple rooms at Grove Park for some homeless addicts and see what happens…Shame on Esther and the local papers for not following up on those felonious Floridians.

  22. After seeing this article it just makes me sick what Asheville has become. The leadership is what is to blame here. Seems they want to destroy it just like they did to San Francisco. I had reservations in May to stay downtown. I am cancelling them and changing them to another city such s Waynesville, Black Mountain or Hendersonville. Maybe in a couple of years the leadership will realize they are chasing away the cash cow that keeps the city alive. I understand residents of Asheville hate the tourists. We’ll keep it up and they will be gone along with your jobs.

  23. I know this is a simplistic comment for a complex problem, BUT,
    every person interviewed about the downtown problem has mentioned human excrement. How about some public bathrooms, or at least port-a-potties?

    1. I think more public toilets would be helpful. But then the problem is keeping them clean, especially if they get used as places to sleep/do drugs/have sex

  24. I was briefly homeless in Savannah a few years ago. They have unused city property that they have homeless camps on. Everyone knew that you went to jail for trying to camp near downtown. The cops let the drinkers drink and the dopers get high at the camps unless there was violence or whatever. Don’t understand why Asheville doesn’t make at least one designated place. There’s a piece of land off Hill St that hasn’t been used in at least 15 years. It is hidden from everyone and has a nearby pedestrian bridge straight over to the mission, Haywood church, Ahope, and other places homeless eat and congregate. But that’s just one example. The other big thing is METH. I’ve been around drinkers and pot smokers, but meth heads are completely out of their minds. They scare even me sometimes. Asheville police and DA need to toughen way up on meth dealers AND users. Thanks

  25. One last comment, TRASH. I’m basically homeless in my car. Me and several other folks in my predicament cleaned up and had a few confrontations with some of the dopers. Please don’t blame all homeless folks for the trash. Thanks again

    1. Thomas, you’ve nailed one large part that few people ever speak about, whether from fear or ignorance or whatever…

      In addition to a different type of community policing downtown, I believe there should be intelligence gathering. Some unhoused people are trying to get back on track, others are simply vagrants, dopers or whatever term you wish to use. We can’t attack this problem until we know who is who. The Koban police model, coupled with intelligence gathering, would help separate those who will benefit from help from those who might never become contributors to our community. Hundreds would get a hand up, others might get locked up and/or go into rehab. But simply doing head counts and hiring consultants to say and do the same things over and over will get us nowhere. I’ve been suggesting that our city and TDA invest in building a Koban unit for quite some time. Such a unit can work with the local non-profits who are currently doing outreach to gather information. This also allows the unhoused who want to get back on track to be proactive in determining their destiny. As for trash, local business owners should be willing to distribute trash bags so long as those on the street are willing to fill them.

  26. The picture above of the city manager and the head of the TDA wearing sunglasses, standing next to each other but not really looking at one another, really says it all…we need an actual intelligent and visionary adult to step into the room.

  27. There’s plenty of money to help in finding solutions. Money for social services, higher pay for police, supplemental shelters, and even managed camps. The city and county was given a ton of money from the federal government over the past few years. The city has saved a ton of money due to the lower police salaries (40% less police on the payroll). The funding has been and is being pissed away. Bad management and bad leadership is evident.

  28. I moved to Asheville in 1981. It was beautiful and always safe. One of my first friends back then told me “don’t try to change us to what you came from and we will always be friends”. I adopted Asheville as it was and changed myself instead of trying to change the area. I left for East Tennessee in 1996 when I saw Asheville changing towards what I had left in big city Florida life. I watched conservative policies being taken over by liberal ones and people being taxed hard and costs of living increasing through local government regulations. I owned my own business and saved thousands in state and local taxes moving across the mountains. Asheville was becoming a mecca of out of towners who wanted it to change for their own personal desires. A once great beautiful city overtaken by the same disease affecting most liberal big cities. The government ruling the people rather than the reverse.

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