Matthew Jones, 30, addresses the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners during public comment at its regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 21. On the agenda was a vote to create an ordinance making it unlawful for camping on county property. “I’m here to be a voice for those who have no voice”, said Jones, who is beginning a nonprofit called Meet Them Where They Are Ministries. Jones urged the board to “love their neighbor as themselves” while considering the vote. (Melissa Sue Gerrits/Carolina Public Press)

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The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners passed, with 5-2 vote, the first reading of an ordinance Monday night that would prohibit people from camping and living on county property. Commissioners Toni Stewart and Charles Evans voted against.

Since the vote was not unanimous, the ordinance will not immediately go into effect.

The county will not begin removing encampments from county property, such as the public library in downtown Fayetteville, until a majority of the Board of Commissioners passes the ordinance a second time, said County Attorney Rick Moorefield. The earliest the board could pass a second reading is Dec. 5 at its  regularly scheduled meeting.

The county’s proposed ordinance follows a similar measure passed by the Fayetteville City Council in August that prohibits camping on city-owned property. The city and county have their own governments that own their own distinct parcels of land.

Waiting for the ordinance to be approved

If the ordinance gets final approval at a second reading, encampments would be prohibited on all city and county land, and people living in the encampments would be classified as trespassing.

In a memo found in the board’s agenda for Monday’s meeting, Moorefield said Fayetteville’s ordinance forced homeless people to begin camping on county property. This resulted in sanitation issues at the Cumberland County Public Library in downtown Fayetteville, which the county, not the city, has jurisdiction over.

“What we are asking to do is talk about our community, our kids who are affected by doing this,” said Commissioner Jimmy Keefe, who voted in favor of the ordinance. 

If the ordinance is passed

If the ordinance is passed by a majority of the board after a second reading, trespassing notices would be issued to anyone camping or establishing a camp on county property. According to the text of the ordinance, the county defines camping as sleeping, lying down, storing personal belongings, placing tents or parking a motor vehicle or trailer with the purpose of living in it.

The ordinance would give Cumberland County Sheriff Ennis Wright, effective immediately after a vote, the authority and direction to:

  • Enforce the ordinance by giving notice of trespass to the person or persons camping or establishing a camp on county property.
  • Direct those persons to remove all personal property located at the campsite.
  • Request the county manager to dispatch appropriate county staff to remove any personal property not removed from the site within the time directed.

Some county residents spoke against the ordinance Monday night during public comment held before the board took a vote.

“Homelessness,” said Cumberland resident Matthew Jones, 30. “Can’t put a Band-Aid on it. You have to get out there, and we have to do something about it.

“No. 1 need? Shelter,” he continued. “When we’re looking at suggestions on spending money, shelter would be a good place.”

County Manager Amy Cannon said at the meeting that, if fast-tracked by the board, the county could finish constructing its planned homeless shelter, in partnership with Cape Fear Valley Health, in two years.

“I sympathize with the children who are not able to go to the library,” Stewart said in response to Keefe’s justification for his vote. “I also sympathize with the children who are sleeping in a car or on the ground at night. We have an obligation to all children. … We do need to do better, and I won’t support this.”

To institute the ordinance, a majority of the board must pass a second reading. The earliest that can happen is Dec. 5.

Ben Sessoms

Ben Sessoms is a Carolina Public Press staff writer based in Fayetteville. Send an email to bsessoms@carolinapublicpress.org to contact him.

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  1. If the county gets it’s way with homeless people.but always supporting our military.forgeting about our homeless veterans as well
    Is a true crime shame on the country we served and love.we as homeless veterans are not on drugs or alcohol we just want to live free from society…..

  2. I live in Chatham Co and was considering a move to Fayetteville where I work. After seeing that some of the homeless, aka blue state problems were popping up, I stayed put.