For nearly two years, a camp of tents and other makeshift dwellings homeless people inhabited has cropped up in the woods off Royall Avenue throughout the entire stretch of forest from Sunburst Drive to Spence Avenue.
On Saturday, the Goldsboro Police Department cleared the camp out, citing the occupants with trespassing and giving them three hours to vacate the property, said Capt. Sherrie Stokes with the Salvation Army.
Stokes visited the camp regularly since it first took shape. She was getting ready to go to the camp Saturday morning when she heard that the GPD had been there already.
“They gave them three hours to gather their things and leave, and nobody can do that in three hours,” she said. “So I talked to Chief (Mike) West and we got them a bit of a reprieve, we got them the whole day to move their things.”
Stokes said that the camp usually housed between nine and 15 people, depending on the day. Some had made their homes there as permanently as they could. Others, known by the regular residents as “tourists,” drifted in and out, and were often people who were curious about homelessness and wanted to “try it out,” Stokes said.
Much of the camp still remains. Plenty of items were left behind, from tents, backpacks and sleeping bags to shopping carts full of items that Stokes said may have been stolen. Bridges made from wooden pallets and rugs cover dips in the walking paths, which are marked by wooden poles along their edges.
At the entrance to the camp, a makeshift house stands at the end of a remarkably suburban-looking path lined with flowers and stones.
Walking into the camp Monday, Stokes announced her presence loudly before entering. It was a practice she developed to help put the camp’s inhabitants at ease when she arrived.
“Salvation Army!” she shouted. “Salvation Army!”
No one answered. The camp was empty, save for the dwellings and large piles of trash that covered swaths of the ground nearby. Some spots clearly were vacated recently.
All of this sits on property owned by five different companies, Stokes said. Many of the people staying in the tent city lived in a camp behind the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet on Spence Avenue but were told to leave the property after a knife fight left several people injured, she said.
Stokes said that businesses in the area have been worried about the camp for some time, and crime has gone up in the area in recent years. Used needles littered the ground in spots throughout the camp, a telltale sign of drug use.
Stokes said that dealing with homelessness can present two competing attitudes –– concern for businesses worried about theft and violence, and concern for the homeless people who often must steal to survive.
Multiple calls to the GPD went unanswered Monday.
Homelessness in Goldsboro is not as bad as it is in some other cites, Stokes said. That does not mean, though, that it isn’t a problem.
Clearing out the camp had to be done, she said, but it still poses a serious challenge for the people living there.
“The one couple that had built a house, they had built a house on someone else’s property. You just can’t do that,” she said. “But it raises the question, if these people don’t want to be housed, where are they going to go?”
It may seem counterintuitive to say that a homeless person does not want to be housed, but Stokes said that some people who struggle with drug addiction and mental health issues may find themselves unable to manage their finances well enough to maintain a home.
Others, she said, may have simply given up.
“Some people feel like they’re the lowest of the low, the worst of the worst,” she said. “They think, ‘Who could help me? Who would even want to help me?’”
Stokes said that the Salvation Army put some of the camp’s inhabitants up in hotel rooms for the time being and had convinced another to enter the Salvation Army men’s shelter. Goldsboro police arrested others on charges unrelated to the camp, and another was admitted to Cherry Hospital, she said.
As for the rest of the camp’s residents, and the homeless population of Goldsboro at large, Stokes cautioned people from becoming too desensitized to their struggles.
“When we see people out there panhandling, our fear as individuals is that they’re not homeless. That they get in their cars afterward and drive to their homes.” she said. “We get immune to what we see every day, and we just ignore it. Our instinct is to roll up the windows and lock our doors. That’s for our safety, but it’s not solving anything.”
Stokes said another such camp likely will crop up somewhere else, given time. Anyone struggling with homelessness, knows somebody who is or is in need of housing assistance, can call the Salvation Army at 919-735-4811.