Clark Campbell Transportation Center’s covered bus parking bays and indoor waiting area see a lot of traffic. Located downtown at the corners of Fifth, Trade and Liberty streets, the central hub for the Winston-Salem Transit Authority is enveloped in a constant hum from bus engines, interspersed with occasional chatter between passengers and hubbub from bordering city streets. It’s also where many of the city’s houseless population congregate. Offering protection from the elements, the center is equipped with restrooms, vending machines and seating areas. According to previous reporting by Triad City Beat, as of Jan. 23 there are 468 houseless individuals — 301 sheltered, 167 unsheltered — in the city.

During a June 12 public safety committee meeting, WSTA’s General Manager Donna Woodson brought up “complaints and concerns,” not just from transportation center staff, but from “citizens who want to utilize the bus services… and are not able to because they don’t feel safe.” During the meeting, Councilmember Annette Scippio asked if “riders” or “non-riders” have been the source of the issues Woodson talked about. Woodson responded that the “majority of the time they are non-riders” who are “there for hours and hours.”

Because of that, they are proposing an increase in security personnel, a metal detector and a change in operating hours.

The public safety committee includes city councilmembers John Larson, Kevin Mundy, Barbara Hanes Burke and James Taylor Jr.

The move by municipalities to criminalize or make it harder to exist in public spaces — which makes it difficult for people who are unhoused to find refuge — is not a new tactic.

Last year, Greensboro’s city council adopted amendments to existing ordinances that critics said  directly targeted the houseless community. One included charging anyone who leaves objects on the street or in a public space with a Class 3 misdemeanor and a maximum fine of $50. Another amendment specified that any person or object who prevented 36 inches of clear access “to freely pass through a sidewalk, public passageway or entrance or exit to a building” would be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $50.

Problems exist, but what’s the solution?

During the June 12 meeting, Woodson said that there has been an increase in non-transit activities such as loitering, long-term stay, use of illegal substances, restroom facility abuse and verbal and physical altercations.

“About twice a month we have to shut down the restrooms,” Woodson said, adding that the malfunctions are often due to “needles and things that have been disposed of in the restrooms.”

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, substance abuse is more prevalent in people who are homeless than in those who are not. In many instances, substance abuse is the result of the stress of homelessness, rather than the other way around. Many people begin using drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with the pressures of homelessness.

According to research analyzed by the American Addiction Centers, “around 1/3 of people who are homeless have problems with alcohol and/or drugs, and around 2/3 of these people have lifetime histories of drug or alcohol use disorders.”

Councilmember Kevin Mundy expressed concern for the houseless individuals spending time at the center.

“While we need to do this, we still have an entire group of people who need help and those are the people who are sleeping in front of the facility. I would love to see our Continuum of Care involved in this,” Mundy said, citing a lack of day activities for people after they leave homeless shelters in the morning. 

“I challenge our local nonprofits to come up with something to help these folks during the day,” Mundy said. 

Woodson replied that they had “talked about that in depth” and “rallied around some different ideas” as far as having agencies on site who can help people in need.

“Once we come back we’ll have a more detailed list once we confirm agencies or nonprofits that are willing to come into the transportation center and offer those services,” Woodson stated.

The central hub for the Winston-Salem Transit Authority is located downtown at the corners of Fifth, Trade and Liberty streets. (photo by Gale Melcher)

Damian Newman, a rider who had been waiting at the center for a Greyhound bus to New York on a recent afternoon, said he, too, was concerned for the houseless people at the transportation center. “Some people, they just need to get back on their feet. And they need help,” Newman said.

One houseless individual, Robert White, acknowledged that there were problems at the station.

“I live at the shelter,” Robert White told Triad City Beat while waiting for his ride at the center. White is currently houseless and takes the bus almost every day. 

“Some changes are needed. Loitering, yeah. Security, yeah — they do need it,” White said. “Things are not like they used to be. At some point it has gotten a little out of control.”

White is currently looking for housing because his previous landlord wouldn’t accept Section 8 housing vouchers — rental assistance from the federal government that can be obtained from a local housing authority for families with low incomes, seniors and people with disabilities.

More police, K-9 units

Woodson said that they’ve conferred with surrounding transit agencies about the problems they’re facing. 

“Some of the agencies, rather than using security, they’re using their own police department,” she said. “We know we don’t have the resources here in Winston-Salem, so we’re proposing to increase our security officers.”

Like many law enforcement agencies across the country, the Winston-Salem Police Department has been facing staffing shortages. According to the city’s budget, there are more than 152 vacant sworn law enforcement positions. Woodson said that they have requested increased WSPD presence and that they’ve seen the “positive effects” of that already, noting that when the K-9 unit comes around, people tend to leave the area. 

“When they show up, people show out,” Woodson said. “Now they know that the city of Winston-Salem will not tolerate those types of behaviors at the transportation center,” adding that they’re sending a message that they need the center “to be used for the purpose — which is for transportation.”

Woodson mentioned during the presentation that employees heading into work often stepped over people who were sleeping in front of the center.

But reporting has shown that punitive policies, particularly ones involving the police or law enforcement, have been found to promote cycles of homelessness. Studies have shown that they do little to solve the issue of homelessness and instead, sows distrust between those who are most impacted and city services that are meant to help them.

“Police interactions can also lead to arrests and convictions, and many landlords don’t accept prospective tenants with criminal records,” as reported in a NextCity article. “This makes it more difficult to get housing and leads to what’s referred to as the prison-to-homelessness pipeline.”

Despite the data, a new report by Boston University found that 76 percent of homeless outreach teams in the nation’s 100 largest cities involve the police, and 59 percent of the outreach teams studied are designed to enforce civil or criminal infractions. Forty-three percent of outreach teams state that their objective includes removing encampments.

Further south of the Triad, New Hanover County commissioners voted 4-1 in February to approve an ordinance change that makes it unlawful to sleep overnight, camp or store belongings on county-owned property. Some say the change targets the houseless population that takes shelter around the public library and parking deck, including the commissioner who cast the sole dissenting vote — Jonathan Barfield. In an article by Port City Daily, Barfield is quoted as saying, “[F]or me, the move was all about downtown, was all about money — the downtown business trying to protect resources there as opposed to looking out for people.”

In Anaheim, Ca., to prevent homeless individuals from congregating at bus stops, the city removed benches a few years ago. 

In Winston-Salem, Woodson said that they are proposing the installation of a metal detector at the public entrance and that they are preparing to bring a revised version of their Code of Conduct to the City Council in August. They are also looking into revising their operating hours. Woodson said that the center is currently open from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. and that they are considering reducing that window.

The next city council meeting takes place on Aug. 7 at 6 p.m. The next public safety committee meeting will be held on Aug. 14 at 2 p.m. Learn more at

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