There was a whole lot of emotion vented by those who live and work in downtown Greensboro during the speakers from the floor segment of the Tuesday, July 9 Greensboro City Council meeting.

The start of the meeting was dominated by numerous speakers – often emotional ones – complaining about what has become a major issue in the city: the Interactive Resource Center, the homeless center in downtown Greensboro that doesn’t provide beds for the homeless but does offer services and is a place where they can do things like shower and check email.

In recent weeks, the disruption by the center to the businesses and residents near it has been the subject of a barrage of complaints from people who live and work in the area – and things came to a head at the July 9 City Council meeting, with many complaining that the problems must be fixed.

Other speakers argued that the true cause of the problem was the “rich” and “elite” people in power, such as the Greensboro City Council members, who, they said, show little to no respect for the homeless.

The complaints ranged from the panhandlers who are sometimes threatening, to attempted assaults on business customers who come to the area, public urination, constant trash accumulation, and drug use and drug dealing – all of which create a place where business clients and residents are afraid for their safety.

Andy Zimmerman, a prominent downtown developer, said the solution was for the IRC – which was once a homeless day center and is now a day and night center – to move to a new location.

Zimmerman (pictured above) said that, ideally, the IRC would move to a larger facility that could handle a lot more people as well as provide additional services to the ones the Center is currently able to offer.

He said a whole lot more people are coming to the IRC than when it first opened up.

“We just can’t handle the amount of people that are going through the IRC,” Zimmerman said.

He added that he knows it’s not a “snap your fingers” fix when it comes to finding a new location.

Zimmerman said the new facility should offer wrap-around services that would mean the homeless didn’t have to walk from one side of the city to the other in the heat, the rain, and the cold to get to places like Greensboro Urban Ministry on Gate City Boulevard and then have to walk back to the IRC.

“The other cities that are more successful dealing with this issue have a campus-like community with these wrap-around services,” he said.

Zimmerman said better leadership of the Interactive Resources Center was also needed.

“It takes good leadership to run a good organization and I believe – I’ve spoken to a lot of people about it – we do not have good leadership at the IRC,” he said.

Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan and Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston, along with law enforcement officials from both the city and the county, as well as other downtown stakeholders, had held a meeting on Monday, July 8 and one thing that many people in the room that day seemed to agree on was that there needed to be more of a presence of police and sheriff’s deputies at the center.

Other solutions being proposed include beefing up services that prevent homelessness in the first place and local governments buying hotels and other properties where the homeless could be housed.

A lot of solutions are being discussed, however, the speakers at the Greensboro City Council meeting wanted action now.

One business owner said that, for eight years, she has tried to work with the IRC but things have simply not worked out.

One speaker said the students from Bennett College and NC A&T are greatly disadvantaged because they use that corridor to go to and from the Depot for travel.

“We tell those students for four years we want them to be in our community and we don’t put our best foot forward,” she said.

She referenced a large email string that’s gone viral in the community lately because it lists many of the problems people have experienced and it includes pictures from surveillance cameras.

Kim Grimsley-Ritchy, who has been one of those spearheading the effort for a change in the situation, has a business at 500 E. Washington St.

“I’m a licensed textile designer with my own business here in Greensboro for 13 years and I’ve been doing this for about 33 years,” she said at the meeting. The reason we’re here today is to bring the community together to make a change that probably needed to happen sooner versus later.”

She said the IRC has gotten so dangerous that clients are afraid to come.

“Our property is across the street and I personally see this every day I’ve been there, almost every day for the last four or five months, multiple times a day.”

She said she’d seen everything from drug use to stabbings.

“I was not there for the person being chased with a gun,” she said, adding that it was not unusual to see fighting multiple times a day.

“The trash is terrible but the last thing that this conversation is about is the trash,” she told the councilmembers.

“I know at least 25 homeless by their name and their information; they’re all suffering and these people are not getting the help they need due to the daily chaos.”

“I hope change is on the way,” she concluded, “because we need it and I hope we come together as a community and I hope that the City Council and the commissioners and the citizens and everybody involved comes together in unison to understand what the problem is.  Nobody wants to see the IRC go away. We need it badly – we just need some change.”

Though trash isn’t the main problem, critics of the current situation say that trash accumulates around the Center and around cars parked in the area from people who are living out of their cars.

One speaker said her son was walking outside of their building and a woman was just standing there.

 “He asked her to leave and she went to the bushes and pulled out a metal pole that she had hidden in our bushes and threatened him with it,” the speaker said. “She also said she had a gun and she was going to shoot him.”

In another incident, one business client was leaving a building with her 11-year-old daughter and a man was sitting on the front steps.  The man wouldn’t move so they had to jump off of the steps to go to the car, and, as they were walking, he got up and started following them to her car, saying something to them as he walked.

Both the City of Greensboro and Guilford County leaders seem to be getting the message these days because there’s widespread agreement among elected leaders that the problem is major and has to be addressed.

However, there’s still a big lack of agreement as to how that should be done.

For now, a greater police officer and sheriff’s deputy presence seems to be the one thing that just about everyone agrees on.

Mayor Vaughan has said that closing the IRC is not an option.