Tent city pops up in Raleigh's Nash Square to protest eviction crisis

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's been a little more than two months since the federal eviction moratorium expired. At the Wake County Courthouse, eviction court is back in session. And a block away at Nash Square, people are sleeping in tents Thursday night to raise awareness about what they say is a crisis wrought by the pandemic.

"This is a statewide effort. This is not just happening in Raleigh," said housing justice activist Surena Johnson. She and her group, Orchid Bloom, helped organize the tent city one day after she spent the night at a park in Fayetteville for the same cause.

"We're trying to get the awareness out of what's going on with evictions in North Carolina," Johnson said. "Hundreds of people are evicted every week and there hasn't been a lot of news on what's happening. So we had to bring attention to what's going on."

On Eyewitness News at the end of July, as the federal eviction moratorium was set to expire, ABC11 got answers from Samuel Gunter, the executive director of the NC Housing Coalition, about its efforts to allocate the hundreds of millions of federal dollars in pandemic aid that's aimed at preventing families affected by the COVID economy from being kicked out of their homes.

Gunter's message then was even while the moratorium is ending, the money is still flowing.

"$180 million has already been awarded and they're taking about two weeks to process from application to landlord," he said in the interview. "This program exists and the money is flowing."

But back on Nash Square, the amount of time it's taking for that funding to arrive to the tenants and landlords that need it is a big bone of contention.

"What we're seeing now is that the money that's been allocated by the Biden administration, which, there is a lot of it, there's no infrastructure to get that money into the hands of the people who need to pay their rent," said Jamie Paulen, a Hillsborough-based lawyer who specializes in evictions.

Johnson added, "It's that they don't have the workers and capacity to cover the numbers."

Thomas Kenny came to this tent city protest because he said he's on the verge of eviction from his home off Western Boulevard. It wasn't COVID-19 but his cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy that forced him to stop working at his job as a Go Raleigh bus driver.

"I've been trying to get help through these agencies and programs. There's not too much help out there for me because most of it is to help COVID-related people," Kenny said.

And so, the campout continues in Nash Square on Thursday night in a protest that's moving to cities and towns across the state.

ABC11 reached out to Gunter about the pace of those payments for tenants and landlords. He was unavailable for an interview but said in an email that the HOPE program hotline is still live; there is still money to help.
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