NCDOT Dismantles Homeless Man's Camp
Updated: Wednesday, December 12 2012, 06:30 PM EST
For Robert Smith, the spot in the Swannanoa woods along Interstate 40 was home for more than eight months - until last Saturday.
"I was picking up cans like I do every morning," said Smith. "And I went up .. and D.O.T. was in there dragging everything up to the road."
Smith says Department of Transportation employees with a crew of community service workers were dismantling the spot he'd called home.
"If they wanted me to leave the property, they could have given me at least a two or three days notice, you know I would have been happy to have moved."
He says he was never asked to leave and given no chance to keep any of his things.
"Even the inmates said, 'At least let him have his food,', said Smith of the incident. "The D.O.T. officer said 'No, drag everything up to the road.'"
A D.O.T. official says workers spotted the tent, which they say was trespassing on state property alongside I-40 last week and went to clean it up on Saturday. The officials said no one was there - and it's not policy to give warning to a trespasser - so they started throwing everything out.
"Everything I own - they took my Coleman stove that I had, two burner. They took all my clothes, they took my blankets ... My Coleman heater, socks, dishes pots pans, my three-room tent, my bed, even my Bible."
D.O.T. says the camp - which was Smith's whole life - was likely already in the dump truck.
"They told me to get the heck off the property and not come back or they would call the police and have me arrested," said Smith. The D.O.T. said one of the employees at the site did notify the Buncombe County Sheriff's Department when Smith, they say, became hostile at finding workers dismantling his tent.
The local Black Mountain shelter isn't open full time, maintaining specific hours and days in certain weather conditions and seasons.
"I've been forced off county property and railroad property - but at least they came in and gave me notice," said Smith.
Smith is a United States Marine Corps veteran. He says he looks for full-time work, but it's just not there.
"I've had little jobs here and there," said Smith. "Unloading a truck, sweeping a floor, cleaning a toilet, whatever job somebody wants me to do I do."
"You can ask him to do anything for you and if he can he will," said Swannanoa resident Lisa McDaniel who calls Smith a "good man." "He's just really nice like that, And him being a vet, I really hate this for him."
By Ashlea Surles
Follow Ashlea on Twitter @AshleaSurles