The rubbish that accumulated at a network of homeless camps known to people driving along Capital Boulevard at Interstate 540 has been cleared by the N.C. Department of Transportation.
The camps, long obscured by trees and brush amid the highway and its exit ramps, began to draw complaints more than two years ago when piles of trash, shopping carts and other debris caught the attention of passersby.
NCDOT decided at the time to let the camps be, as long as they didn’t pose a safety risk to the public or the people living there. The department said it was following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said clearing homeless camps during the COVID-19 pandemic risked spreading the coronavirus.
But complaints to NCDOT, Raleigh police and the Wake County Sheriff’s Office continued, according to NCDOT spokesman Aaron Moody. That’s particularly true for the largest camp tucked into a small valley formed by eastbound I-540 and the ramp to northbound Capital Boulevard.
“Growing safety concerns have been brought to NCDOT and law enforcement’s attention over this location in recent years due to illegal activity of the residents including drug use, trash/waste accumulation, local thefts, and panhandling,” Moody wrote in an email. “During a site visit in December, it was noted that health and safety risks had significantly worsened to the point NCDOT concurred with local law enforcement that it was time to take action.”
Moody says NCDOT notified agencies that work with homeless people so they could help those at the interchange find another place to live. Seaira Green, who specializes in homeless outreach for Triangle Family Services, said local agencies and churches were able to help several people find housing.
“DOT did let us know so that we could get folks prepared,” Green said. “And that’s how we were able to get some folks relocated to hotels and get some folks connected to vouchers and to other agencies.”
Green said some of the people living in the camps declined help with housing and moved to a secluded area farther up Capital Boulevard.
“They were given supplies — tents, backpacks, blankets, that kind of thing — so that they could relocate on their own accord,” she said.
As many as 15 people were living at the interchange at any given time, Green said. Much of the debris at the site came from nearby shopping centers. Residents pulled expired food and other discarded items from bins behind the businesses and used shopping carts to haul them to the camp.
NCDOT’s contractors collected more than 400 shopping carts, Moody said. The Raleigh Police Department has contacted businesses that owned the carts and given them the opportunity to reclaim them.
“Some businesses have taken the carts back, while some have chosen not to,” police spokesman Lt. Jason Borneo wrote in an email.
Borneo said the unclaimed carts will be considered “abandoned property” and go back to NCDOT.
Altogether, NCDOT contractors expect to remove nearly 600 cubic yards of trash and debris from the interchange, Moody said. A special biohazard contractor was brought in to handle potentially dangerous waste, including used drug paraphernalia and needles.
Cleanup work began March 6, after all the residents had left, and is expected to cost about $90,000. The trees and brush that once hid the largest camp from Capital Boulevard have been removed. Moody said NCDOT will continue to evaluate the site to determine if any additional work, including replanting, is needed.
This story was originally published March 30, 2023, 3:12 PM.