Larry Alum has been living at Hangtown Haven, the legal encampment for the homeless in Placerville, since last August. Before that, he lived in illegal camps around Placerville. “I had been couch surfing for a while with relatives in Placerville and with my girlfriend in Cameron Park,” said Alum, 43. “But on April 19, 2012 I had nowhere else to go.”
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On April 4, this year, Alum does have somewhere to go — a new job in Texas, driving truck. It’s the realization of a goal he has held since he became homeless. “From the first day I got to the camp, my goal was to get out; I didn’t want this to become my lifestyle,” said Alum.
Alum is not only a resident of Hangtown Haven, he is also president of the Hangtown Haven Community Council, a council of residents who do the actual running of the camp and enforce the camp standards. “The hardest thing is to tell people they have to leave,” said Alum. “We are like a family here. When a friend can’t follow the rules here and they are on a destructive path, it’ s hard to tell them to go, but I have to ensure the safety of 20 other people.”
Substance abuse and a series of bad decisions made Alum homeless, he said, but having a target to focus on kept him from making more bad choices. “It’s been a bumpy road,” he said.
An injury in 2004 put him out of his trucking job and he was stabbed in the chest in July of 2012. “Substance abuse and alcohol are rampant among the homeless,” said Alum. “I’ve seen my friends pull themselves down by their choices — when you have nothing to look forward to, you have nothing to fight for. You can fall into a routine or you can shoot for a goal.”
When Alum heard the buzz about the possibility of a legal camp, he figured it wouldn’t work, until he met the determination of Art Edwards and Ron Sachs, co-founders of Hangtown Haven, Inc. “Art and Ron had been working on this for years,” said Alum. “This camp is amazing.”
Alum cited the support of local churches and the community as being the most helpful thing in his homeless journey. “It blows me away the amount of suppport we get here with the shelters, the Upper Room, the Community Resource Center and the people who bring lunches and the volunteers. They are an amazing group of people who really care about the homeless.”
Alum had a home and vehicles before he became homeless. “This has really opened my eyes and I will never again take things for granted,” he said.
For a while, Alum said his truck will be his home, with a cousin’s house as his base. “But I want to save money and buy a home someday,” said Alum. He’s looking forward to meeting up with his son who lives in New Mexico. He also plans to take his knowledge of how a legal homeless encampment can work on the road with him. “I want to adapt it to what the homeless situation is in Texas and volunteer to help.”
Representatives from cities and states all over the nation, including Arizona and Texas, have come to visit the camp, taking its cleanliness and resident-enforced standards as models for their own legal encampments.
Leaving the camp is both exhilarating and saddening for Alum. “I’ve made some really close friends here. I don’t think I ‘ve ever had friends like this in my life. The camaraderie is amazing and if something needs to be done, everyone comes together,” he said.
Currently there are 24 residents camping in Hangtown Haven, but that number will increase when the nomadic winter shelters close at the end of March. The encampment has a temporary use permit from the city of Placerville until Nov. 15. After that date, the encampment will close unless it is able to find a new location.
“The city really stepped up and has done an amazing thing with allowing this camp to happen,” said Alum. “But so many of the organizations that help the homeless are trying to be top dog. More teamwork is needed.
“I know I’m going to worry every day until Nov. 15. Where will they go? What will happen to my brothers and sisters here? This camp is a good thing and it’s working. It’s getting people off the streets and back into society. I’m living proof of that.”
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.