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ONLY ON 3: Man's death reveals homeless camp in old restaurant

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- The suspicious death of a homeless man found along New Centre Drive may have uncovered a larger problem in the area.

While police continue to investigate the death of Judson Lee Poland Jr., the community is working to end one of the factors that may have contributed to his death.

Since purchasing the old Wilson's restaurant in February, leaders at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church have been working to make it the dream home for their growing congregation. Little did they know that a group of vagrants were already calling the building home.

"It was a total shock," Rev. Terry Henry said. "Several of us ride by there almost daily just to check on things, and we had not been going in the back. There were beer cans and beer boxes, a lot of debris and a lot of things that tell me that they had been involved in some things that are not good. We were not aware that there was someone living there."

After the death of a man who reportedly camped in the building, leaders of the church were left with no choice but to kick out everyone living in the homeless camp, but first they wanted to try and help them.

"One guy said he was staying, and his tent was there, so I'm going to call the Salvation Army and make some other phone calls to some of the centers that I know of, and perhaps they can house these individuals," Henry said. "It's cold outside, and no one wants to be in the cold."

For years the City of Wilmington has been working to end homeless camps like the one that was behind the old Wilson's. The city says that in a five-year span it has reduced the number of homeless from 211 all the way down to 43, but even one homeless person is too many.

"A homeless person with a bologna sandwich is still homeless. A homeless person with a nice warm blanket is still homeless," said Dan Ferrell, Strategic Director for the 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness and Reduce Homelessness in the Cape Fear Region. "We're all for moving people from encampments and from unhoused situations into stable supportive housing. The only antidote for homelessness is housing."

Before leaving their camp at the old Wilson's restaurant, the homeless volunteered to clean up the mess they had made.

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