It’s been a long road and there are plenty of twists and turns left, but Hangtown Haven, Placerville’s only legal camp for the homeless will soon be relocating. Since last August, the camp has been located on Broadway in Placerville, down the street from the Upper Room Dining Hall and the Community Resource Center, both of which serve the needy and the homeless in the community.
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The camp functions successfully on 1 acre owned by the Wilkinson family, with a temporary use permit that is good until November. But, by November, the camp needs to find a new location and according to Hangtown Haven Inc. founder Art Edwards, they might have done so. Even better, they have a plan to make the camp financially self-sustaining.
The new location, Hangtown Haven West, is on Perk’s Court on property owned by El Dorado County just off Missouri Flat Road. The 1 acre parcel fronts Highway 50 and is covered with oak trees and foliage. It has access to water and power and there is a large concrete slab from a home that no longer exists.
Barbed wire fencing surrounds three sides of the property, but Edwards plans to build a 6-foot wooden “good neighbor” fence along the frontage to screen the camp from Highway 50 and a section of the El Dorado Trail that parallels it. After the site is cleared of brush and graded, a steel fence will be added between the camp and the United Outreach house for homeless women and children, the nearest neighbors.
Two steel temporary buildings are planned for the site — one an enclosed steel shed that will house a gathering area with a woodstove, computer access for job searching and the camp’s library. An open-air roofed shed will provide additional shelter and common area. A shed structure will be positioned at the entrance to the site for volunteers to do visitor check-in and monitor those entering or leaving the camp.
Four living areas will provide space for about 40 tents or temporary cottages. “We’re working with architect Peter Wolfe to design as much usable space as we can,” said Edwards. “We’ll keep the trees and get rid of the brush and this will really be a beautiful place to live.”
Tents, like the ones currently used at Hangtown Haven, will be the first homes on the property, but Edwards is planning to gradually replace many of them with 8 by 12 micro shelters suitable for one or two people. A model, made by Mark Murphy of Murphy’s Sheds, and assembled by the homeless, is currently on display at Hangtown Haven.
“Mark just walked into the camp one day and asked what he could do to help,” said Edwards. “We just happened to have an idea.”
The cottage is wooden, rests on concrete blocks, and has two windows and a hardwood floor. Two bunkbeds, a desk, a dresser and a small closet with no door are built in. There is a locking front door to provide a sense of security, especially for women residents. It does not have water or electricity, and at less than 120 square feet, does not require a building permit.
“The materials to build this cost about $2,500,” said Edwards.” Mark designed it and built the walls and frame and taught the people at the camp here how to put it together.”
“In Sacramento, one of their microshelters runs about $5,600 and it doesn’t have anything built into it,” said Rebecca Nylander, a Hangtown Haven resident. “Mark Murphy did a great job of teaching us how to build. We learned so much — it was really exciting.”
The microshelters are more than just a temporary home; they are part of a plan to make the camp financially self-sufficient. “In order to qualify for one of the cottages,” said Edwards, “you have to have a part-time or full-time job or be a full-time college student, you have to agree to keep it clean and orderly, and you have to pay rent.”
A dozen cottages at a low rent could pay the camp’s bills, said Edwards. Keeping the woodland environment in mind, they will be painted in complementary shades of brown and green, different for each cottage. A six-foot overhang supported by pillars can be added as an outdoor sitting area.
“We’re hoping we can get churches and non-profit organizations or businesses to sponsor the money for materials for a cottage and the homeless will build it,” said Edwards. “These cottages, built by the homeless, will be a way of supporting themselves and I don’t think that has been done in the county before.”
The proposed new site is far from the Upper Room Dining Hall and the Community Resource Center, but it is close to community medical services. Large retail businesses that could be sources for employment are within walking distance.
“We have a bus that we use now, when the nomadic shelters are open,” said Edwards. “We’ll use it to do a run from Hangtown Haven West about 3 p.m. each day, to the Upper Room and then bring residents back to camp at 6 p.m.”
Hangtown Haven Inc. is in the process of meeting with Perk’s Court residents, the fire department, Sheriff’s Office, El Dorado County Board of Supervisors and others to move through the necessary steps to make the new camp a reality.
“The two-by-two meetings with City Council members and the Board of Supervisors have really helped move this along and Mayor Wendy Mattson has been a huge support,” said Edwards. “We’ve talked with some of the supervisors and they sounded very positive. Supervisor Veerkamp asked for his constituents to contact him and let him know their support of the camp.”
Edwards is hoping Hangtown Haven Inc. can lease the property from the county for about $5 a year. “We’re doing everything according to the law and the building codes. It’s not going to be easy to get everything done by November,” said Edwards, “so we’re hoping we’ll have permission to start by Aug.1. The homeless are anxious to get to work on the property.
“We have a proven track record of doing this right at Hangtown Haven and being able to raise the money we need,” said Edwards.”We aren’t asking for any money from the county. All we need is the property.” Hangtown Haven’s proposal is on the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors agenda for July 23.
For more information about the camp or the cottages, visit the Website at hangtownhaven.org