Local woman organizes network to help bring resources to local tent cities

Volunteers help clean up the tent community located on Akron Drive.

Local woman organizes network to help bring resources to  local tent cities
March 03
13:34 2021

While scrolling through her Facebook newsfeed a few weeks ago, Arnita Miles came across a video that showed a homeless tent city that had formed on Akron Drive and the hazardous conditions the people were living in. “When I saw the conditions out there, I knew I had to do something to help,” Miles said. And that’s exactly what she did. 

That night Miles went to the tent community located near the Rainbow Laundromat, spoke with the people living there, and promised she’d be back. She came back the next day with her close friend and provided a few blankets. The next day she returned and was able to provide a hot meal.  By day three, word of what Miles was doing started to circulate around town, and by the end of the week dozens of people, local churches, businesses, and non-profit organizations started reaching out to Miles, asking how they could help. 

“People from the community have donated everything – toiletries, blankets, coats, socks. We’ve had hot meals twice a day since day three,” Miles said while discussing “Tent City Akron.” 

“It’s been a blessing to see how the community has rallied together to help. People from all walks of life have come and donated and we’re not an official group with a title or anything like that, we’re just people who care about the community.”

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in recent years the number of tent cities has been on the rise. A tent city in Charlotte recently gained national media attention after more than 150 homeless people were given 90 days to vacate the property near the city’s downtown area. 

Tent City Akron formed about a year ago near the Rainbow Laundromat and 10 to 12 people call the wooded, grassy area home. The land where the encampment is located is owned by the N.C. Department of Transportation and last week, people living in Tent City Akron were told that they had to clean up the property by the end of the month or receive a nuisance and abatement order. Miles responded by partnering with local community organizations, HOPE Dealers Outreach and Enough is Enough, to host a clean-up day last weekend.

On Saturday, Feb. 27, dozens of volunteers rolled up their sleeves and helped residents clean up. Frankie Gist, who is the founder of HOPE Dealers Outreach, said when he saw what Miles was doing, he immediately reached out and asked how he could help. Gist, who organized a march and rally downtown last summer in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, said, “We should have the same energy we had this past summer around this issue. The same people that had that energy in the summer have to have that energy today.”

Monday, March 1, marked Miles’ 17th straight day at Tent City Akron. Most days she arrives around noon and doesn’t leave until after 5 p.m. Miles said after she saw that video and issued that clarion call to the community to help the residents of Tent City Akron, she knew the people would answer. “I had faith in the community and I knew the goodness of the people of Winston-Salem,” she said. 

The ultimate goal is to help find housing or space in a local shelter for the residents of Tent City Akron.  Miles said most of the residents are on the waiting list and don’t know when they’ll be able to find housing. 

Since spending time at Tent City Akron, Miles has identified at least 10 other tent cities in Forsyth County. Next week, she plans to start mobilizing to assist others, while also continuing to support the residents on Akron. 

“We’re going to go wherever we’re needed,” Miles said. “We have the resources here in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County and it’s time to use those resources to really help those in need. I believe the community wants more of the hands-on approach of helping people, more so than saying you’re helping people through paperwork … not just the talk but the action.”

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