‘This is home:’ NC DOT threatens existence of longtime Durham homeless camp

Posted 4:26 p.m. Wednesday

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NC DOT says homeless camp is tresspassing

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Durham, N.C. — State leaders have informed members of a long-term homeless community near West Chapel Hill Street in downtown Durham that it’s time to call somewhere else home.

Anyone who has driven on the Durham Freeway has likely passed the camp, which is near the access ramp of N.C. Highway 47 at Chapel Hill Street.

The Department of Transportation told WRAL news that at the end of 2017, the city and county heard from residents complaining about the camp.

DOT leaders said it was the first time there were complaints about it.

Joyce Klunk said she is one of five people currently living there. She was forced into homelessness because of domestic violence.

She’s been in her tent since August, but the camp has been around for several years.

"This is home for me right now," she said.

She says at the camp, she is equipped with everything they need to make homelessness "doable."

"It’s nice to sit by a fire for just a companionship or fellowship, you know," Klunk said. "Just like everybody else does. We have to sit outside to do it. That’s all."

But now the camp’s days are numbered. A sign put up by the NC DOT informs tenants they are trespassing on state property.

Klunk says it went up about two weeks ago, and city leaders told her that police would start enforcing it next week.

She said she doesn’t know where she’ll go.

"Because there’s just not that much affordable housing in Durham that is appropriate. I could go get a room with roaches and a rat," Klunk said. "That is not home to me. That is just keeping me down."

Ernie Mills Jr. is with the Durham Rescue Mission, which runs a homeless shelter.

He went by the camp to offer its residents a place to stay. He said the Rescue Mission’s numbers consistently increase every year.

"Our little slogan is when someone asks us how many people can you help, we always say one more because there’s always a person out there that needs help," Mills said.

But Klunk says she’s tried living in a shelter before. It was too structured and crowded.

She wants to stay at the camp, until she can save up her disability checks and get a place of her own.

"Just let us stay here until our housing comes through," Klunk said. "Or if we do have to relocate, then we really need help to relocate and move our things and not just abandon what we have and go from there and have to start all over again."

The Department of Transportation is not a law enforcement agency, so enforcing the sign would be up to Durham police.

WRAL reached out to the Durham Police Department Wednesday for a comment and has not yet heard back.

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