The City of Asheville announced it is under contract to purchase the Ramada Inn at 148 River Ford Parkway to establish a more permanent "emergency shelter" for unhoused community members. According to their press release, if Council approves the purchase at their August 24th meeting, they will also budget for its operations using American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Asheville City Council is expected to review and consider approval of this property purchase and funding for operations at their 5 p.m. August 24 Council meeting. If this project is approved by City Council, the City will purchase the Ramada Inn property and budget funds for operations. Funding for this project is proposed through key partnerships and federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.

- City of Asheville Press Release, 8/5/21

The last information session for this project is tomorrow night, August 12, 2021. Participants must register by noon tomorrow to speak. You can register for the information session here.

Will the City Budget for Meals?

According to sources who work with these programs, the city is not currently providing a budget for food to the three hotels they have been sheltering unhoused community members in. Instead, they rely on volunteer networks to provide meals, and these shelters receive as few as two meals per week.

"The Ramada Inn has 85 unhoused people [...] My understanding is that they are on a month-to-month approval of funding by the city of Asheville," says London Newton, a student at UNC Asheville and organizer with Asheville For Justice.

Asheville for Justice is one community group that has volunteered to help feed the individuals in these emergency shelters.

"They were put in hotels pretty soon after the city manager sicced a bunch of police officers on unhoused folks and supporters, ‘evicting’ them from public land hours before Aston park was closed for the day," Newton added. "My best friend and I, Camille Nevarez-Hernandez, have been getting food from the [Asheville Survival Program "Free Store"], using [Asheville For Justice] funds, and food donations from community members. Some Sundays, we are able to find folks to help cook meals, and we give them the food to cook in their homes, and then they take them to the hotels."

It is unclear if the budget for this shelter will include meals in the future. The Free Press has reached out to city officials who have promised responses, but those responses have not materialized as of publication.

At the first of two information sessions, officials were asked about meals and said they were still working out details.

Some Business Owners are Opposed

According to Caitlin Penter of WLOS, owners of businesses neighboring the proposed shelter have cited "safety concerns."

“'Our first question: neighboring property owners have reported more needles, litter, graffiti, dumpster activity, theft and crime in the area since the temporary shelter has been in operation, how would you respond to that,' Ashley Traynum-Carson presented to the panel Monday.

Emily Ball, an employee with the city of Asheville, responded.

'I would say, first of all, this is true. And also, what I would say is we know that is true across our community. It’s not only in that location,' Ball said. 'That’s back to what I said at the beginning. It’s a bit of a different climate in our community than we’ve had in the past, and we have a larger number of people who are unsheltered.'"

- Caitlyn Penter via WLOS News 8/10/21

According to Penter, Assistant City Manager Cathy Ball also stated that city officials have been in talks with APD about ways to "enhance security" at the shelter.

Studies have suggested that concentrating unhoused populations in easy-to-target facilities often results in increased reports of crime but not an increase in actual harm to housed neighbors. Oftentimes these increases stem from the criminalization of being unhoused through infractions like "vagrancy."

How to Get Involved

The last information session for this project is tomorrow night, August 12, 2021. Participants must register by noon tomorrow to speak. You can register for the information session here.

For their part, London Newton wants people to know that what she is doing is not exceptional and should be the bare minimum.

"I like to remind people there was nothing special about me that got me involved and that we are all capable and have something to offer. Cooking happens to be my passion, but everyone can start where they are with what they have and what they love to do. There is no shortage of needs unmet in Asheville, and we all have something to offer."

"Please donate to Ashevilleforjustice on Venmo, and follow us on Instagram at ashevilleforjustice and turn on post notifications!"

Asheville Survival Program is also on Venmo @AVLSurvival, and on Instagram @avlsurvival.

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