Reflections From the Front Lines

February 28, 2023
By Hannah Stutts: 

There are some dates that never leave your memory–your partner’s birthday, wedding anniversaries, the day a loved one has passed. February 18, 2021, is one of those dates for me but it marks a very different moment in time. It’s the date that began the eviction of the 200-plus individuals living in what became known as the North End encampment.

At the time I was working for Roof Above, driving daily past the tents of our clients, whom we lovingly call “Neighbors.” The piles of their belongings stacked high around their tents, barrels burning pallet wood, music playing loudly (always music, always loud). I was directing the team known at the time as Housing Navigation Unsheltered, meaning the people living in this camp in those many tents were the people we served and cared for. It pivoted our work in so many ways we could never have anticipated and changed my life forever.

There are moments from the time the encampment existed I’d prefer to forget: Fights and overdoses. Severe mental health crises and domestic violence. And yet there was beauty that lived there. So much beauty. How many people are welcomed to their workplace daily with loving greetings from people living just outside the gates of their office?

Who can say they had the pleasure to dance on the sidewalk to music with neighbors whose lives were full of more trauma and complexity than most of us will ever know, but still could somehow find a reason to dance? I can.

As the time of this two-year anniversary of a large-scale eviction approaches, my heart aches for the struggles the individuals faced that were living there, aches for the lives that were lost during the encampment, and the time after when my team ran the motels that housed them. I am reminded that community and partnership matter, and bringing dignity and joy will always in turn breed bonds that cannot not be broken.

The federal government has decided that the pandemic-era funds will come to a complete end in the months ahead. And for many, that means a time to move forward from what was a time of such loss, such sadness, and such transition. I believe it is also a reminder to us that during that time communities came together in ways they never had dreamt of before. And that for a brief moment in time the streets of Uptown Charlotte were a safe haven and a home for hundreds in our community. A community that still exists, if not as visibly as when many drove by them daily on the way to work or delivered them food and clothing in support.

I no longer work for Roof Above nor live in Charlotte, but with the coming of February each year I will always be drawn back to the place, the time, and the people there. The neighbors continue to live in Charlotte, though maybe now less visible. But they are still there, and they are still dancing.