Eric Frazier

Will the homeless get pushed off North Tryon Street?

The Homeless on North Tryon

Carson Dean, head of the Men's Shelter, discusses the tensions around the homeless on North Tryon St.
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Carson Dean, head of the Men's Shelter, discusses the tensions around the homeless on North Tryon St.

Business leaders have long wanted the homeless moved off North Tryon Street.

But it seems increasingly clear that the two charities the homeless frequent in the area – the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte and the Urban Ministry Center – aren’t going anywhere. The 400-bed Men’s Shelter has even unveiled a $7 million fundraising campaign aimed at renovating its building.

But leaders in North End Partners, a booster group representing businesses and neighborhoods on the north side of uptown, aren’t giving up hope that the charities can be persuaded to move.

Mark Middlesworth, president of the group, runs Extravaganza Depot, an events center on North Tryon. He says that he sees homeless men wandering around all day and that they sleep in his company vans and relieve themselves in his alley.

He says rather than renovate the shelter, city leaders should consider helping it build a secure campus on seven acres of city-owned land off Statesville Road, where the homeless could get day services and treatment in one place, protected from drug dealers and other criminals who prey on them.

I sympathize with property owners like him who fear the light-rail-fueled redevelopment boom is about to pass them by. “Not one developer is willing to buy (North Tryon) land until you tell me that homeless shelter is not going to be there,” Middlesworth says.

But shelter director Carson Dean makes a strong point when he says that if the charities move now to make way for development, they’ll just be asked to move again when it reaches the new neighborhood.

Middlesworth knows he can’t make the charities move, but he hopes to persuade city leaders to lean on the charities and keep alternatives on the table.

But I don’t see a move happening.

If you walk around any major city in America, you will find homeless people. No sense in trying to push them out of sight here in Charlotte.

Middlesworth doesn’t want to be seen as “the bad guy” who just wants the homeless out of his neighborhood. He makes some good points about other services the homeless need, such as more day programs or mental health counseling, even a gym.

But here’s something more constructive he and others could do: Try to gain a deeper understanding of the charities’ work and the challenges they face. Ask what you can do to help them – right where they are.

Maybe you can help lobby for better or more strategic police presence. Maybe you can offer ideas to cut back on aggressive panhandling, littering and trespassing.

Middlesworth says Dean won’t sit down and talk about alternatives, including moving. Dean says he’ll talk but believes that all the North End Partners really want to discuss is moving the agencies.

As far as I can tell, the charities have little reason to trust the North End folks’ assurances that they are trying to look out for the homeless, not just their own property values.

If I were one of the property owners near the charities, I’d stop asking questions and start volunteering.

When it comes to building the goodwill it takes to have real dialogue, that seems as good a place as any to start.

Eric: 704-358-5145; efrazier@charlotteobserver or @Ericfraz on Twitter.

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