County moves forward with ordinance aimed at addressing unsheltered in downtown

County Commissioners are once again voicing their concerns about the population of unhoused residents in Downtown Wilmington.
Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 2:54 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - County Commissioners are once again voicing their concerns about the population of unhoused residents in Downtown Wilmington, specifically those congregating near Third Street and the New Hanover County Library.

On Monday, commissioners voted in favor 4-1 of a proposed ordinance that would restrict sleeping on county property, and give the sheriff’s office more authority to address issues arising on the property. Sheriff Ed McMahon told commissioners that the issues he’s seeing are increasing and pose threats to safety and public health.

Because the vote was not unanimous, the ordinance will have to go through a second vote at the board’s next meeting.

“The conditions between public urination, public defecation, drug use, assaults, and then our sheriff was saying a whole variety of crimes that are happening. We’ve been trying to address this in the most, I think, soft manner for multiple months now we’ve seen the problem grow and grow, and it’s not getting any better,” Commissioner Rob Zapple said.

While some have been critical of attempts by the city and county to address the unsheltered population, Zapple says the county is taking steps to help these people get into better situations.

“We have provided the services and reached out to every one of the individuals that is there, not only there by the library, but underneath the Third Street Bridge. In those areas of encampment we have reached out with our department, social services, and our law enforcement to provide them the many, many services,” he said.

He also said the new ordinance, which passed 4-1 for its first reading, isn’t going to turn into a situation with excessive law enforcement actions.

“There’s nobody going in with mass arrests or anything like that. This is just simply to say it’s against the law to do those things which are already against the law in a public space here… the one kind of focus point is you can’t sleep there from 10 p.m. till 7 a.m.” he said.

You can read the proposed text of the amendment below.

Following is a summary of the amendment:

•”Sleeping on county property will be prohibited from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m

• Items left unattended are subject to disposal.

• Parking decks and parking lots are for parking and associated activities only.

• Entrances to county facilities and associated areas are for ingress and egress only.

• This ordinance will apply to all county owned and leased properties.

• Parts of this ordinance do not apply to emergency management sheltering events, county employees in the performance of their job duties, and the general public within a county facility for the purpose of transacting business.

• Exceptions to this ordinance can be made by the county manager or their designee. This ordinance will aid the county in keeping its properties safe, properly maintained, and attractive.”