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New Hanover County commissioners will again consider measures to address homeless congregating at library

A homeless person sleeping at the parking deck in Downtown Wilmington
A homeless person sleeping at the parking deck in Downtown Wilmington

The unhoused population at the New Hanover County Library in downtown Wilmington has been a flashpoint for conversations about crime, drug use, and the region's capacity to handle homelessness and substance abuse.

While the proposed ordinance technically covers all county-owned property, the most public part of the county's role in addressing homelessness has taken place in downtown Wilmington, specifically on the county-owned library property.

Last spring, the county put forward an ordinance with a similar goal; commissioners first pulled a proposed $50 fine from the plan, then rejected it outright, leaving the question of how to deal with the homeless population on the table.

Related: NHC Commissioners change course, reject ordinance aimed at removing homeless people from county property

In September, county commissioners approved a new program — called 'Getting Home' — which the county describes as a comprehensive program
to address homelessness in the downtown area, pairing social from the county's Department of Social Services with Wilmington police officers.

At a recent joint meeting of New Hanover County and City of Wilmington staff and elected officials to discuss the use of opioid settlement funds, City Councilman Luke Waddell noted the libary, as well as the Meadowlark Lemon bridge on North Third Street by CFCC, remained problem areas, calling them the 'elephant in the room.'

In a recent email to commissioners, County Manager Chris Coudriet noted the Getting Home program was seeing some successes — but not on all fronts.

"Some things are not better, however, and are maybe even worse," he wrote, noting that the issues included "the amount of what appears as personal belongings to be unattended and abandoned for hours and days, the amount of general litter, reports of open-aired drug exchange, [and] personal conflicts leading to violence."

The proposed ordinance update also notes the "use of outdoor and parking deck areas as restrooms."

To address these issues, the proposed update to Chapter 38 of county code would restrict the times during which homeless individuals can "live" on county-owned or leased properties; the ordinance also prohibits sleeping on county-owned property from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

To address the homeless population next to the 212 North 2nd St. parking garage currently sleeping and residing on North 3rd Street, a line specifically pertaining to parking decks has been added, stating they are only to be used for parking or related activities.

Unattended items are also subject to removal.

The ordinance would subject violators to removal by law enforcement and possible criminal charges for violating trespassing laws as laid out by Chapter 14✎ EditSign of the North Carolina General Statutes — likely a second-degree offense. Punishments for this offense, a Class 3 misdemeanor, vary but include up to $200 fines and up to 10 days in jail for a first conviction (up to 20 days with multiple convictions).

The Board of Commissioners will vote on the amendments at Monday, January 23rd's meeting. There will be no public comment period for New Hanover County residents to weigh in, but — because there is no public hearing — a unanimous vote will be required to forgo a second reading and approve the motion.

Below: The proposed ordinance update.

Camille hails from Long Island, NY and graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Her story focus revolves her deep care for children, young adults and mental health. You can reach her at cmojica@whqr.org.