Complaints and safety concerns grow around homeless community

Complaints of panhandling, solicitation and general safety have led to several calls to the city.
Published: Jun. 12, 2023 at 6:56 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Local leaders took steps to alleviate issues with homeless people in downtown Wilmington, but business owners and neighbors now say those individuals are showing up along busy roads and intersections.

In February, people who were experiencing homelessness frequently set up camp downtown until they were forced to find new places to stay.

The owners of Capt’n Bill’s, near the intersection of Market Street and Kerr Avenue, have had issues with the increased population on the north end of Wilmington.

Complaints of panhandling, solicitation and general safety have led to several calls to the city. Now, officials are working with the owners of Capt’n Bill’s to see what they can do to make the area feel safer.

The Wilmington city manager posted a “do not trespass” sign on their property to see if it will minimize the number of people loitering and Wilmington police have increased its presence there as well.

Donnie Stone, the co-owner of Capt’n Bill’s, said that it’s not enough and they need more help.

“We’re at a point where we’re getting emails from customers about them being approached in this area going home. Of course, we have a league that runs from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. so there’s young guys and girls that are going home at you know, 11-11:30 p.m. and being approached as they go to their cars. It’s something that worries us,” said Stone.

Homelessness is an unfortunate reality across the country and in many spots in Wilmington, from downtown to intersections miles away.

Terry Mangum has lived on the streets for 17 years and while New Hanover County leaders recently passed an ordinance to keep the unhoused off county property, Mangum believes leaders should instead be focused on finding them a place to stay.

“The city and the county need to step up and do more. They really do. Whether it is to take over places that are being put up, but something’s got to be done. People can’t continue to live on the street,” said Mangum.

Now, people who have typically lived in and around downtown Wilmington are spreading out across the area and business owners are taking notice.

“Any major intersection; it seems like there are panhandlers. There’s only so much we can do there, we get a lot of pushback from citizens and they feel threatened when they’re at stoplights. We’re trying to work within the law to at least get them off the center medians because those center medians were not designed for pedestrians,” said Wilmington City Council Member Neil Anderson.

The city is also increasing police patrols in high-volume areas, but with an ongoing affordable housing crisis, a full solution isn’t so simple.

“The problem is that rent is going up and we are seeing it really difficult to find affordable units. We have the money to help house people, but if people can’t sustain that housing long-term, then it’s really difficult. The more affordable housing that we have, the easier this job will be and the fewer people we’ll see on the streets,” said Kyle Abrams, assistant director for Good Shepherd Center.

Even still, some neighbors and businesses say something needs to be done and Mangum agrees.

“Right now, the main emphasis should be trying to get these people up off the streets and there’s just not enough people willing to help,” said Mangum.

Stone also continued to say that as for Capt’n Bill’s, they know it’s not an overnight fix, but something needs to be done.

“We know it’s not a quick fix, but we’d like to see some sort of progression here in the near future,” said Stone.