Race against time for Waynesville homeless camp
The longstanding brouhaha over a makeshift dwelling near Frog Level has escalated to the point where enforcement action is likely in the coming days.
“Before 15 days, I have to clean it up or file an appeal,” said Ron Muse, who owns the Church Street parcel where Ronnie Hicks and fiancé Sassy Fulp have been living for about a year.
Muse was served with papers by the Town of Waynesville Feb. 12, giving him a deadline near the end of February to evict Hicks and Fulp and remove their cobbled-together domicile along with huge piles of trash and other assorted debris that dots the vacant parcel.
The violation notice alleges six public nuisances, including uncontrolled growth of weeds, an accumulation of trash and combustibles, stagnant water, open storage of rubbish, and other “conditions detrimental to the public health.”
Muse has been at odds with the town for quite some time; his requests to rezone the property have been ignored or denied by town aldermen, making the property unsalable, according to Muse.
For years, it’s been a secluded place close to downtown where the homeless would sleep in tents, sleeping bags or en plein air, but the more substantial dwelling by Hicks and Fulp features a metal-framed roof topped with tarps, and even a full-sized front door, despite a lack of electricity, water or sanitation infrastructure.
“I’ve just given up,” said Muse of trying to get the property rezoned; he further noted that he doesn’t have any pending requests for rezoning the parcel at the current time.
But, Muse has also given up — or rather, never began — trying to evict Hicks and Fulp, to the great consternation of aldermen.
“Might as well be used for the homeless,” Muse said by phone Feb. 18.
Also on Feb. 12, aldermen passed a series of changes to a town ordinance that will make it easier to address such stalemates in the future. Section 26-31 of the town’s nuisance ordinance is now much more specific and deems it unlawful “for the owner, lessee, or occupant of any property to create, maintain, permit or fail to abate any activity upon, construction upon, condition existing upon, or use of, any property that is detrimental, dangerous, or prejudicial to the public health and safety. Such activity, construction, condition, or use shall constitute a public nuisance.”
Another change, to section 26-32, adds two more specific conditions that now constitute a public nuisance — “Human defecation and urination into or upon soil or in any other manner that is or is potentially injurious to the public health and safety,” and “Any fabric, metal, carboard [sic], or other materials used for a temporary tent or structure for purposes of a permanent or temporary abode.”
Other changes address the accumulation of trash and the power of the town to seek injunctive relief in the court system.
All of the changes address conditions that exist or are alleged to exist on Muse’s property, which as of press time was still inhabited by Hicks and Fulp.
“We’re looking,” said Hicks, who received a $500 a month housing voucher weeks ago and at the time said he hoped to be in a more traditional dwelling before February.
It hasn’t been easy, though; the supply of rental housing that accepts such vouchers is very low, and Hicks said he isn’t exactly the type of renter many landlords want.
“From my research there’s a whole list of places I’ve been calling, but either the price is too high, or, there’s the pet thing,” he said, mentioning his and Fulp’s dog Spike. “A lot of them have applications I couldn’t pass, like the credit application, or a felony conviction. If you’ve got a felony and they say it doesn’t matter, well, it does.”
Hicks said he’s a truck driver by trade who lost his job after some moving violations; Fulp told The Smoky Mountain News Feb. 6 she lost her job due to an untreated diagnosis of pancreatic cancer that made it too hard for her to work.
Muse remains adamant that he still doesn’t want to evict the pair, especially as winter weather continues to visit the area.
“I’ll file an appeal to try to get more time, maybe until there’s warmer weather,” he said, “but sooner or later, I’ll have to run them off, if that’s what [aldermen] insist.”
If and when that eventually happens, Hicks said, he hopes he, Sassy and Spike have already found rental property that can accommodate them.
“We’re working hard at it,” he said. “I’ve done it all my life. I’ve survived somehow.”
If they haven’t, Hicks isn’t certain what he and Sassy, who is often bedridden for days due to her illness, will do.
“If this housing stuff isn’t worked out, I don’t know where we’ll go,” he said. “I guess we would go somewhere else and be creative and pitch another tent.”