Fayetteville starts issuing citations to homeless people camping in city


Chris Tober sits outside the Cumberland County Library on Maiden Lane on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, with his dogs. Tober and his mother were issued citations Monday for camping on public property. The Tobers are homeless.

Editor’s note: A headline on the Fayetteville Observer’s website has been updated to clarify that the city’s homeless encampment ordinance applies to enforcing a no-camping ordinance in an area that officials have deemed unsafe.

As temperatures dropped this week and mother and son Sharman and Chris Tober couldn’t find places to accommodate them and their five dogs, they were issued citations.

Their alleged crime, the Tobers said, is being homeless.  

Jodi Phelps, chief of staff for Fayetteville, said three citations were issued Monday to individuals “found to be camping in high-risk locations along Maiden Lane.”  

Monday was the first day that a city ordinance prohibiting homeless camps went into effect.  

The Tobers say they and another man who lived near the Cumberland County Library in downtown Fayetteville were issued the citations.  

Their court date is Dec. 6.  

A citation for Chris Tober, which is similar to one his mother received, states that camping on city property poses a health and safety risk in Fayetteville.

“The citation says we’re a danger to the public safety of others and other’s health out here,” Chris Tober 45, said. “I said, ‘A danger to what? How are we a danger?’ We don’t have no weapons. We don’t do no drugs.”  

Banning homeless camps

City discussions about prohibiting homeless encampments started in May, with the city’s prior ordinance only banning camping in parks and cemeteries.  

More:‘Where will they go?’ Fayetteville considers legal process for clearing homeless encampments

The new ordinance states that camping on streets and in public areas “interferes with the rights of others to use the areas for which they were intended.” 

“Such activity can constitute a public health and safety hazard, which adversely affects neighborhoods and commercial spaces,” the ordinance states.  

The ordinance allows the city to may remove the temporary shelter, bedding and personal belongings and that “when an overnight shelter is available, it is unlawful to camp upon any city-owned property.”  

“Any encampment on publicly-owned property within the city that is deemed a high risk to the public’s health and safety will be posted ‘No Trespass,’ removed, and cleaned,” the ordinance states.  

People found guilty of violating the ordinance face a misdemeanor charge and are subject to a maximum fine of $500, imprisonment, or both.  

Fayetteville police officers started issuing verbal warnings about the ordinance in October.  Citations were issued Monday. 

In May, Economic and Community Development Director Chris Cauley said the ordinance would allow city staff to assess encampments for public health and safety risks and work with partners to provide services to the people living there using “a trauma-informed, compassionate approach.” 

Opposing homeless encampment ordinance

The Tobers and homeless advocates disagree with the city moving forward with the enforcement of the ordinance.  

During Monday night’s Fayetteville City Council meeting, Fayetteville native Matthew Jones recited Bible verses like Proverbs 29:8, which states “the righteous care about justice for the poor, but wicked have no such concern.”  

“You’re trying to move my friends all around the city of Fayetteville, but you’re not telling them where to go because you got nowhere for them to go,” Jones said.  

Lindsey Wofford, executive director of the nonprofit Seth’s Wish which feeds and clothes homeless people in Fayetteville, told council members that when the Tobers were issued citations Monday, no one could tell her where to take the Tobers to.

“When I asked where I could take them, I was told just not city property,” Wofford said.  

Lindsey Wofford, executive director of Seth's Wish, spoke to Fayetteville City Council members Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, about the city's ordinance that issues citations for homeless encampments.

Councilwoman Shakeyla Ingram asked city staff a similar question during the council’s work session in May.  

“We already know we don’t have enough beds. Where will they go? I’m looking at a Monopoly board, and everything to me says ‘go to jail’ card,” Ingram said.  

Brook Redding, the city’s special projects manager who is overseeing the implementation of the homeless encampment policy, told Ingram the city can’t clear an encampment if there is no shelter available; but if the encampment is a high risk, then the availability of beds isn’t a limiting factor. 

Cauley said encampments will only be deemed unsafe and contribute to a “public health and safety problem,” if there are multiple people living in the area instead of just one person.  

“I think one of the things to consider about here is when we talk about high-risk encampments, we’re not talking about an individual person,” Cauley said at the council’s May 2 work session. “And so at some point, we have to talk about the large collection of individuals is what helps contribute to the public health and safety problem.”

At the same meeting, Mayor Mitch Colvin pointed to other North Carlina cities  — Asheville, Charlotte, Raleigh, Winston Salem — with similar restrictions and said the city wasn’t doing the homeless a favor “by turning the other way and not giving them services.” 

By August, the majority of the city council agreed to move forward with amending the city’s camping ordinance.  

More:Pitts: Fayetteville moves to take on its homeless camps — but with a light touch

Redding told the council in August that there were about 475 unsheltered, homeless people in the city, including small children, women and people who were fleeing abusive environments.  

“The city is not in the process of going to every encampment and telling them that they have to leave,” Redding told council members. “We’re not trying to get in that business right now. We understand there is a limit to the services in the city.” 

Council members approved the ordinance at their Aug. 8 meeting, with Councilwoman Courtney Banks-McLaughlin and former Councilwoman Yvonne Kinston opposing it.  

Banks-McLaughlin asked where the homeless individuals would go.  

“How can we basically run them off the streets with nowhere to go?” she said.  

City Manager Doug Hewett said if there are no beds at local shelters, city officials would not clear the camp unless it “poses a danger.”  

Shelters full, no beds available

At Monday night’s meeting, Wofford said she spent seven hours talking to 40 representatives from organizations and the city Monday, including the Fayetteville Police Department’s homeless resource officer, Salvation Army and Manna Church.  

Wofford, who recorded the conversations, said Salvation Army and Manna Church representatives told her there was a waiting list and no available beds.  

Other organizations did not have hotel vouchers, Wofford said.  

She said Redding told her he didn’t have an answer about where to take homeless individuals or what would happen if they remained in the same location this week.  

“The ordinance is a joke,” Wofford said.  

Sharman Tober told council members that she’s applied for housing assistance in the city and is willing to live in a house, apartment or trailer.  

Sharman Tober, who lives at a campsite and in a minivan she shares with her son near the Headquarters Library, called the issuance of citations for camping 'asinine' and said the city of Fayetteville should help and not hinder people. She is shown on Thursday evening on Nov. 10, 2022.

Organizations like Fayetteville/Cumberland Continuum of Care, Tober said, only seem to assist people who are already in housing.

Fayetteville/Cumberland Continuum of Care, is a coalition of nonprofits and partner organizations that deal with homelessness. 

Before the council meeting Tober, who is 73, said she and her son are disabled.  

She and her son said they’ve been homeless for about 10 years, which started when county officials told them they had too many dogs.

They now have five dogs — Jack, Ringer, Precious and Butterball and Dottie — which Sharmin Tober said are certified as emotional support dogs for her son, and up-to-date on vaccines.

Chris Tober said they’ve stayed in hotels or with friends and family off and on through the years, but didn’t want to be an inconvenience.

Homelessness, Sharman Tober said, is not a four-letter curse word.  

“It’s a situation we get in,” Tober told council members. “People get in, and we don’t want to be there. I don’t want to be there. I’ve been trying to get out for years.”  

More:Fayetteville takes steps to clear out homeless camps near downtown library

At Monday night’s meeting, Colvin said the city is working with nonprofits and the county to address the city’s homeless population.  

“This is not something that is unique to our community,” Colvin said. “This is not something that any of us can solve alone.”  

The city is in the process of building a homeless day center in a 12,800-square-foot warehouse at 128 King St. to give people in Fayetteville experiencing homelessness a place to stay during the day and support services to help them with their next steps.  

For the Tobers, the center doesn’t address where they can stay.  

“We need beds now,” Sharman Tober told council members. “We don’t need them next week. We need a place to live.”  

Staff writer Rachael Riley can be reached at rriley@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3528.


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