Credit: Grant Blankenship/GPB
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Macon-Bibb County bulldozes one of the city's largest homeless encampments
Officials in Macon-Bibb County took action against the city’s growing population of unhoused people with the bulldozing of a downtown encampment Wednesday.
County officials said they began telling people five days ago they had to move from the encampment behind gas stations and fast food restaurants on Spring Street about half mile from Interstate 16.
Before the bulldozer began scooping up the camp, Pat Garrett’s tiny plywood home was on wheels and ready to roll, though she didn’t know where.
“It's kind of been up in the air,” Garrett said. “We have a several spots, but they're still iffy, as if they'll come and do the same thing again, which probably they will.”
Garrett, who said homelessness is still fairly new to her following a recent eviction, wasn’t alone in packing up and wheeling away. Others loaded up what they could of their belongings on shopping carts or piled upon bikes. Firefighters and sheriff’s deputies stood to the side and watched while workers from private nonprofits tried to offer services to the displaced.
Spencer Hawkins, Director of the Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency, led the Wednesday effort. He said the move was made in the name of public health.
“You can see it and you can smell it: this is not a place people should be living,” Hawkins said.
He said issues ranging from the lack of public sanitation to open fires set just the other side of a treeline from a gas station made things dangerous.
The spot is only one of a string of similar camps stretching up and down the Ocmulgee River. It began growing rapidly after the county kicked squatters out of a shuttered Greyhound station earlier this year.
Officials from a local shelter, the Brookdale Warming Center, said they had enough beds for the displaced people for at least the next 90 days, even as most of the residents of the Spring Street camp appeared to just be moving down river.
Meanwhile both the county and a local coalition of advocates for homeless people are still looking for a permanent solution to Macon-Bibb’s struggle with homelessness.