Ashevillians Address Rising Crime & Diminishing Tourism - TribPapers

Ashevillians Address Rising Crime & Diminishing Tourism

Anthony and Sherrye Coggiola share Clarify, Connect, Create, and Launch Formula. Photo by Tribune staff.

Asheville – Asheville has been all over local, state, and legacy news, being touted as one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. For a city that survives on tourism this is a major problem. Many local residents will no longer go to downtown Asheville, and as this news spreads, many people will opt to vacation elsewhere. Asheville business owners, who are still recovering from COVID shutdowns, are feeling the effects.

Local leaders listen to ideas on how to solve Asheville's problems. Staff photo.
Local leaders listen to ideas on how to solve Asheville’s problems. Staff photo.
Photo by Tribune staff.

While some of the issues Asheville is facing have been around for a long time—drugs and homelessness specifically—most people never saw them. It was during the year 2020, after the George Floyd riots, that things deteriorated and have only gotten worse. Our police force is down by 40%, and crime is up. Many downtown businesses, merchants, and their employees are afraid to go to work or to go back to where their vehicles are parked after work. Tourists and locals have been assaulted to the point of having to be hospitalized. But there is hope. Asheville’s citizens are stepping up to help.

A Gathering of Leaders

On Thursday, April 6th, a very eclectic group of people gathered together in the back room of The Cantina of Biltmore Village to form a coalition. It was a small group made up of the leaders and directors of what might, at first appearance, seem to have opposing agendas, but the open dialogue showed that they all really want the same thing: for Asheville to be a safe, supportive, and thriving city again.

Within Asheville and Buncombe County there are people who are doing wonderful work to curb the problems that have arisen, but never have they been asked to band together to pool their resources and share ideas. That is what this meeting was all about. Present at this forming meeting were local business owners Anthony and Sherrye Coggiola, who set up the meeting; commercial realtor John Menkes, founding principle of GM Properties Group; George Morosani, president of George Morosani and Associates; Honor Moor, co-founder of Asheville Coalition for Public Safety; Mike DeSerio, Eleanor Ashton, and Jim Lowder from Homeward Bound; Francina Edmonds from Thrive Asheville; and representatives from the Tribune Papers.

Experience, and a Formula that Works

Anthony Coggiola, both former military and law enforcement official, laid out the formula he uses as the CEO of C3L Associates: Clarify, Connect, Create, and Launch. Coggiola is an expert at creating and managing strategic relationships with other organizations to leverage their collective talents and expertise. He has worked around the world, helping people and countries in a variety of areas, including technology, education, healthcare, sustainable farming, and managing non-profit and government organizations. About his formula he says, “C3L stands for Clarify (language), Connect (people, ideas, businesses), Create (not just the art of the impossible, but the art of the imaginable). If you can imagine how to solve this problem, where could that get us to as a country? And then we Launch, we set it in motion.”

Anthony and Sherrye Coggiola share Clarify, Connect, Create, and Launch Formula. Photo by Tribune staff.
Anthony and Sherrye Coggiola share Clarify, Connect, Create, and Launch Formula. Photo by Tribune staff.

Two of the things that Anthony and Sherrye Coggiola are working towards are workforce housing, as opposed to just affordable housing, and the reintroduction of a nuisance court. According to Coggiola, workforce housing would be for, “Police officers, resource officers, and nurses that are in the school system, to see if we can, as a for-profit, subsidize and use that as part of the benefit package for these people that we’re trying to get here in Asheville.”

“We used to have a nuisance court here in Asheville,” said Coggiola. “Basically they come in and they look for repeat offenders, and then the judge says OK you gotta do this type of civil work, cleaning up this or do that? If they don’t come, then there’s a bench order. When you talk to the police officers and you look at the percentage of convictions, or the DA, or the magistrate, it’s a revolving door. That’s not good. I don’t think someone has to go to jail to put them back in the system, but if we could put them into the process, we find that helpful. Policing is very complicated.”

Local Citizens Support our Police

Honor Moor’s group, Asheville Coalition for Public Safety, stands in support of local law enforcement officers. Moor said, “This is our hometown and, quite honestly, we don’t like what we’re seeing. We’re seeing changes in our neighborhoods—north, south, east, and west. We have about 167 members in our group. We have a lot of people who have been longtime invested in the city and have really put their hearts and their money into this city. They’re not happy with the increase in vagrancy, as stated by the AVL Watchdog Report. Our main purpose is to hopefully get our leaders to give significant increases to the Asheville Police Department, because this is a very expensive place to live, and this is typically a middle-class job.”

Speaking about the homeless situation, Moor went on to say, “Our group has a lot of questions. When people come here from other places to Asheville, do they get to automatically get into housing, if someone comes from Raleigh, someone comes from Cincinnati, someone comes from Detroit? That is a good question that I think the general community wants to know.”

Homeward Bound Leaders Clarify

Addressing the homeless problem, Mike DeSerio, Program Manager for Homeward Bound, said they have to get on a list. He continued, “We go out to where people are camping or staying, or anywhere in the community, and we connect them with community resources that they need. We make sure if they’re interested, they’re on a housing list. If they get on that housing list, and when they can actually get into the housing, we try to help them with their day-to-day stuff.

Eleanor Ashton, Senior Resource Development Director for Homeward Bound, shared about Homeward Bound, “We’re in our 36th year, a local nonprofit, and our mission is to prevent and end homelessness through permanent housing and support. We don’t provide shelter, although A Hope is a day shelter. We basically provide homes for people who are homeless. Since we’ve been using the Housing First model, from 2006, we’ve housed more than 2,470 people, and 92% have remained in housing and have not returned to homelessness.” According to Ashton, “The average age of our clients is 50 years old, and many of them have been living on the streets for decades. We know everybody in Asheville that is chronically homeless, and that means they’ve been homeless for a year or more and have one disabling condition. Seventy-five percent of them are from Western North Carolina, and for whatever reason fell on hard times, lost the support of their family. If you or I became homeless, we could rely on our families to help us out, or our friends, these folks don’t have that support system.”

Homelessness or Vagrancy?

One of the important points that came up was the difference between the homeless and vagrants. It is actually the vagrants, also called travelers, who are causing the most problems. Sherrye Coggiola said that this was why she and Anthony decided to find out how they could help, to get everybody together. “The homeless, the vagrants, it’s kind of hard for us to understand how to differentiate, but we get that there is a difference. We understand it’s mental illness. We understand it’s drug use. We want to partner with the people that know much more than we do to try to help fix this.”

Affordable Housing Landlord Adds Input

George Morisani said, “I’m basically part of this group because I want to see some kind of law and order come to Asheville. Over my earlier years I built fifteen apartment complexes within the western region. I have 410 of them that were originally built for moderate-income housing people, and now they are serving low-income housing completely. I pay several people to live there and give them a building allowance and things of this kind. I’m aware of the problem of low-income housing, but again, mine works like a business, you’ve got to pay for it. You pay your rent, you maintain the apartment, and we inspect.

Everyone at the meeting got to give their input, and everyone came away with a greater understanding of the issues. Many will be reaching out to other groups that are doing good work in these areas. The meeting ended with everyone feeling a little better about being able to make a difference, together.