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Who Cleared the Homeless camp? 

Police, homeless advocates say better communication needed

Crisis Assistance Ministry executive director Carol Hughes was in for a shock when she arrived at work Oct. 24. Someone had swarmed into a homeless camp near her office, bagged its residents' belongings and deposited them at the curb.

She was stunned. "I said, "What are all these pink bags?" Hughes recalled. She'd always thought law enforcement officers notified homeless agencies before clearing out a camp. No one had been notified about this case, as far as she knew. Now, people who were living at the camp, near Interstate 277 and North Graham Street, saw what little they owned bagged like trash.

It turns out, Hughes was wrong. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police don't have a department-wide protocol for notifying people before ordering them out of homeless camps. Neither does the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office, which doesn't typically patrol the camps.

The sheriff's office sent an inmate work crew to help clean up the area near Hughes' office at the request of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, but wasn't involved in any eviction, said Julia Rush, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office. Why the camp was cleaned up wasn't clear by press time, but law enforcement said such measures are often at the request of property owners.

Last week, advocates for the homeless were talking and e-mailing about the need for more cooperation among law enforcement and agencies serving the homeless. "Is there not a better way for our community to work together?" read one e-mail.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Wade Cantrell, who's studied how other law enforcement agencies address homelessness, said he hopes so, because it would save police time, money and jail space. "Ultimately my ideal goal would be that communication would be improved between all agencies," said Cantrell.

He added the department doesn't have a uniform protocol for cleaning out homeless camps, but it does not "simply destroy property."

Eloise Hicks, executive director of the Regional HIV/AIDS Consortium, said the evictions are ironic, given the massive outpouring of aid for hurricane victims. "We've got a community that came to the relief of Katrina victims yet stripped the homeless that were here of what little they have," Hicks said. "...This just breaks my heart."

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