Featured photo: Clark Campbell Transportation Center, downtown’s bus hub sandwiched between Trade and Liberty streets. (photo by Gale Melcher).

New rules by the Winston-Salem Transit Authority limit how long people are allowed to hang out in the area.

In December, the transit authority combined their code of conduct and ban policy into one document and altered some of the rules. The “most significant change” to the rules, according to the city’s Transportation Director Jeff Fansler, is enforcing a time limit for patrons of Clark Campbell Transportation Center, downtown’s bus hub sandwiched between Trade and Liberty streets. Despite WSTA’s new enforcement, a few groups, like a local religious organization, are being given special permission to linger while some members of the unhoused community said they have been banned.

What are the new rules?

While people don’t need bus tickets to enter the transportation center, anyone who visits, including passengers, is allowed to remain on the property for a maximum of 90 minutes. This doesn’t apply to those waiting for PART, Sunway or Baron buses; they are allowed to remain on the property for longer periods of time but must still provide identification. 

The metal detector, which WSTA’s former manager Donna Woodson said would be installed in November, is not in place yet. It’s supposed to be at the main entrance.

“Like many transit facilities across the country,” the transportation center has seen “consistent issues” with substance abuse and loitering, WSTA’s Interim Manager Byron Bryant told TCB.

On at least one occasion, a bus station custodian has been attacked, according to security staff, another reason why the rules were put in place.

Still, last year, residents voiced concerns that these new rules directly target the unhoused, including the city council’s own Southwest Ward representative Kevin Mundy, who worried that policy language could be weaponized against a “marginalized population.”

“We still have an entire group of people who need help and those are the people who are sleeping in front of the facility,” he said.

Data from this year’s Point-In-Time count, an annual effort to identify the number of unhoused people in the county, shows that at least 125 people are unsheltered in Forsyth County, an uptick from last year’s 87. Volunteers also counted 362 people in emergency shelters; last year they counted 282.

A poster displayed on the window of Clark Campbell Transportation Center. (photo by Gale Melcher)

An allowance for ‘expressive activity’

Despite the new rules, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been seen standing for hours on end in multiple locations around the property, from the entrance doors to the bus bays.

According to Bryant, Jehovah’s Witness representatives have “express permission/consent from the City of Winston-Salem to be present at the Clark Campbell Transportation Center, as well as other downtown areas.” Jehovah’s Witnesses can also be seen near Merschel Park. 

Members of the religious group are required to proselytize and a standard commitment to ministry work is 840 hours a year, around 16 hours per week, according to reporting by the Guardian

In an email to TCB, Fansler explained the city’s stance on proselytizers such as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“Since 2020, WSTA has a policy that regulates expressive activity,” Fansler wrote. “Anyone engaged in expressive activity is subject to that policy which does permit posting/distributing literature within certain parameters.”

According to WSTA’s expressive activity policy, this is defined as the “posting or distributing of flyers, pamphlets, brochures, literature, books, or any other written material, collecting petition signatures, political campaigning, demonstrating, displaying signs, picketing, playing of musical instruments or other performances, public speeches conducting surveys, soliciting or receiving of funds or contributions of any kind for any purpose, or otherwise communicating or attempting to communicate with the general public.” 

Before engaging in expressive activity, people must first submit an application and receive permission from WSTA.

A Jehovah’s Witness who spoke to TCB at the bus station confirmed that the group had asked the city for permission to be there. One said that they think they have a “calming effect” on the area, and that they do this work because they “just love people.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses often stand near the downtown bus station’s entrance. (photo by Gale Melcher)

How are the new rules impacting the unhoused community?

One homeless individual, Kyle Guffey, said that while Jehovah’s Witnesses normally don’t bother anyone, one got annoyed and frustrated with him because he didn’t want to talk. Guffey added that Black Hebrew Israelites, which have been characterized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, also set up on the Trade Street sidewalk across from the building.

Lisa Russell Uber runs Mama Lisa’s Love, a grassroots outreach organization headquartered out of her van. Uber drives around the city and drops off resources and clothing to the unhoused nearly every day, especially in high-need areas like the downtown bus station. Many of them are elderly, and dinner is usually homemade chili and coffee, Uber said.

Uber told TCB that since the rules were updated in December, security has been “running people off” and that the people she serves have been “scattered all over the place.” 

She “can’t find them half the time” because they’re “afraid they’re going to get banned.”

Uber told TCB that she used to go in the parking lot behind the bus station to set up, but she’s been told to stop. 

“The security guard said he didn’t mind it; it was the people inside,” she said. Now she sets up across the street from the bus station, usually near the Trade Street sidewalk. 

It is “100 percent unfair” that Jehovah’s Witnesses are allowed to linger at the station while the unhoused and outreach organizations that aim to help them are pushed away, Uber said. 

“A little discriminatory if you ask me,” she said.

TCB met several unhoused residents who had been banned, including one who had been barred for shouting an obscenity at a WSTA staff member. Profane language is prohibited by WSTA’s code of conduct.

Although many of the unhoused people that TCB spoke to said that security officers haven’t enforced the rules against them, one area of the bus station, behind an elaborate sculpture wall near the parking lot and back of the building, known as the “Memory Wall of Mr. Imagination,” has been a point of contention amongst both the unhoused community and security. It offers a secluded area, and has been described as a place where people can get “anything” they want, according to one individual TCB spoke to. 

Clark Campbell Transportation Center, downtown’s bus hub sandwiched between Trade and Liberty streets. (photo by Gale Melcher).

And many who used to seek refuge in the space have been told by security that they can’t sit back there anymore, another unhoused person told TCB. If you do, “police will run you off,” they said. A security guard who spoke to TCB said that keeping people away from the sculpture is the police department’s policy.

“They smoke, they drink, all things that they technically shouldn’t be doing in public,” the guard said. “And what I mean by smoke is marijuana. That’s really the only reason they’re trying to enforce it.” According to the guard, the area is part of the bus station’s property, so it’s included in the 90-minute time frame. 

For the two or three security guards tasked with patrolling the property, making sure everyone is following the 90-minute rule is a daunting assignment. 

“There’s maybe 500 people who come through this building per day, I can’t keep up with every single one of them,” one security guard told TCB.

But if people aren’t causing trouble, some security guards say they typically won’t approach them to check for bus tickets.

“They’re not bothering anybody, so why should I bother them?” the guard told TCB.

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