HAYWOOD COUNTY, N.C. (WLOS) — Authorities in Haywood County say there’s a growing issue with homeless camps underneath bridges.
More recently, there have been efforts to clear them and to let the homeless know about resources to help them.
Representative Mark Pless (R- District 118) said he knows the homeless issue is complex, but that setting up homeless camps under bridges is a public safety issue.
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“They’re putting bedding under there. They’re putting furniture under there. They’re making houses under there, literally," Pless said.
He said it all can add up to a dangerous situation.
“They’re creating a fire hazard by building fires under these bridges to keep warm and now they’re destroying public property,” he says.
A fire underneath the Russ Avenue bridge in Waynesville one year ago caused a lot of damage.
“It was $3,000 or $4,000 damage. So, we don’t want that to happen again,” said Waynesville Police Chief David Adams.
Pless said he has been in touch with Adams and Haywood County authorities. He has also spoken with the N.C. Department of Transportation, which owns the bridges, to help streamline the ability of law enforcement to apply trespassing laws.
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“I contacted the DOT and I asked them about what we could do about removing folks that were staying under bridges. They have given law enforcement the authority to act on the state’s behalf," Pless said.
Getting "No Trespassing signs" up, like the one now at the Russ Aveue bridge, streamlines the process.
“We’re going to make sure every bridge is marked,” Adams says. “Right now, we want to encourage those people camping underneath the bridges to leave. That’s our goal. We don’t want to take people to jail over a trespassing on state bridges,” says Adams.
Pless says the goal is not to charge folks, but to protect public property, and at the same time letting them know about available help.
“We have addiction services. The county has a contract that has an outreach person," he says
“Pathways is an option that we have. Helping Hands-that’s an option. I think United Way has some resources too,” says Adams.
“We just want to get people to where they need to be," Pless said. "The whole goal is just to make contact with them and say, 'Listen, we know you’ve been here. It’s time to move on. You can’t stay here anymore. We’re protecting the property that belongs to the people.'"
He said he would like to see "No Trespassing" signs set up on every bridge in Haywood County.