On the chilly morning of Nov. 15, Hangtown Haven in Placerville was broken down — personal effects packed, tents taken down and residents shipped off to new destinations with tears and an air of quiet, somber optimism. On Tuesday, 24 residents lived at the camp. Friday had about 20. Saturday would have zero.
Tom Carney, a volunteer helping to take the upper Broadway camp apart, said that “big stuff” — like one of the offices on site — could stay for a few months, but residents and whatever they owned had to be out by the end of the day. Some residents, he said, would be going to the “winter shelter,” or “nomadic shelter” — 10 churches rotating the responsibility of taking the homeless in. Others would illegally camp while still more would resort to couch surfing.
“They’ll be spread out,” he said.
The churches provide shelter from Nov. 1 to March 31.
“That’s their best hope,” Carney said of the church shelters. It’s a place to stay warm and dry, he said, and more importantly, stay safe.
“It’s a new beginning,” Haven resident Ralph Alexander said. “You just can’t see it through anyone else’s eyes. We’ll pick up the pieces.” He said the camp was being closed down for being overly successful — homeless from out of the county were coming to live there.
“In six weeks, maybe we’ll have something new that’s better,” Alexander said. “It’s nice here, I’m going to miss it. But the next place may be better.” He was quietly helping both residents and about a dozen volunteers take down tents and move personal belongings.
Three or four people would take down a tent, placed on pallets to keep it dry. Nails were taken out, tent coverings and tarps taken off, tent poles folded. On the path up the hill that makes up the Haven, the right side housed tents, the piles of belongings and supplies were on the left — food, bikes, water, air mattresses, backpacks.
Some of the belongings, including summer clothes and things that can’t be easily transported, will be held for the residents at the Green Valley Community Church in a large storage container, volunteer Steve Stockwell said while breaking a tent down. “Tents, sleeping bags, summer clothes,” he listed off. “The worst case scenario, they get it back in the spring,” after the winter shelter. He noted the homeless will not be able to access anything in storage at the church on a regular basis, though.
One man approaching the Haven was turned away. He was unaware it was closing. Another was driven to McDonald’s, final destination unknown.
Frank Matous, who designed Hangtown Haven’s Website, said the local stores such as Grocery Outlet will feel the impact of the loss of the camp. “We get $200 in food stamps per person per month, times 30 that’s $6,000 a month. They’ll have to cut hours, or someone is losing their job. It’s impacting the local economy.”
A tan Chevrolet pickup truck with a small flatbed backed up to the entrance to the camp. A shed that had been used as an office was picked up by about 10 people and moved 30 feet — with some difficulty — onto the flatbed. They pushed it across the gravel walkway, off the small slope onto the flatbed, packed with pallets to compensate for raised wheel wells, and shoved the shed onto the pallets. It was ready to be moved to Green Valley Community Church.
“We have a Christian background,” Alexander said. “We aren’t perfect, but we strive for happiness. We’re doing the best we can. If you don’t have anything to look forward to,” he trailed off. “It’s been fun. The staff, the volunteers were great. We don’t take taxpayer’s money, we are all self-supporting. We are all a family.”