Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Hangtown Haven revisited

HANGTOWN HAVEN RESIDENT Luke Branson cooks hash brown potatoes over a wood fire at the homeless camp on Broadway. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

HANGTOWN HAVEN RESIDENT Luke Branson cooks hash brown potatoes over a wood fire at the homeless camp on Broadway. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

From page A1 | October 08, 2012 | 24 Comments

On Wednesday morning, a few residents of Hangtown Haven, the city’s first legal homeless encampment, gathered in the common area as resident Sam Carter, 32, cooked the fixings for breakfast burritos for all.

In August, Hangtown Haven Inc. was granted a 90-day special use permit to allow the camp on the Broadway property owned by Barry Wilkinson. The  Mountain Democrat talked to residents of Hangtown Haven, neighbors, Placerville city staff  and the organizers of the encampment to find out how things have been going.

The camp’s common area is now covered in pea gravel instead of brush and blackberry bushes. A picnic table and seating areas are grouped around a fire pit. There are three portable toilets for the camp, one of them ADA accessible, and a wash station. Water comes from a well which the property owner allows the camp to tap into and they  will be installing a water purification system. Twice a week the toilets and a garbage dumpster are emptied.

Mounted along one section of fence is a board with electrical outlets.

“This is our electrical system,” said Art Edwards, 80,one of the founders of Hangtown Haven Inc., the organization responsible for the facility. “A licensed electrician donated his time to install it, so we have lights in the common area and a place to charge phones or computers.”

Down an old fire road, newly cleared of blackberry bushes and scrub and covered in bark chips, stretches a line of tents. Some have small rugs in front of the entrances— one had a set of wicker chairs and a plant in front of it. Other tents occupy a series of dirt pads in a cleared area below the main campsite. There are two empty tents for emergency visitors — people who arrive on the weekend and aren’t able to be cleared for intake by the Community Resource Center, which closes on weekends.
About 35 people and 30 tents now occupy the fenced area of the camp, but it could hold as many as 60 people and tents.

The camp is governed by a Community Council — five  residents of the camp. The council hears complaints, ideas and enforces the rules of the camp. No children, pets, fighting or theft are allowed. No cooking fires or smoking except in designated areas. No public intoxication, drugs or open containers of alcohol.

“We’ve had visitors from San Antonio, Redding, Nevada, Nevada City and Los Angeles, wanting to see how the camp works and why it’s working,” said Ron Sachs, 76, another founding member of Hangtown Haven Inc. and president of Job’s Shelters of the Sierra. “Having the residents who live here govern themselves is the biggest key.”

Ken Green, 47, and Todd Parker, 40, two members of the Community Council agreed.

“We’ve lived with most of these people in shelters, ” said Green, who is also the site coordinator. “We know how to approach them and how to talk with them.”

Parker added, “We’ve learned the different personalities and so we can talk to people in their own way. A lot of people get defensive when approached, especially if someone is trying to get them to abide by the rules.”

Edwards and Sachs, each with more than 25 years experience in working with the homeless, function as advisors to the Community Council and interface with city officials and organizations on behalf of the homeless population.

“We help provide the facilities, but we don’t run the camp. They do, ” said Edwards. “One thing we’ve learned in this trial period is that this camp can work.”

Stephanie Allen, 46, was one of the first residents of the camp, helping to clear brush and build it. “Being homeless is a lot of work. This is better than living in my car, being messed with by the cops. It’s more like a family unit. ”

Chores, like raking the gravel common area, starting the fire and keeping trash picked up are done by example, said Parker. “Someone gets up and starts doing something and other people join in.”

The disparate groups of homeless in the camp are like a blend of many different cultures. Living together in one place was potentially like putting sticks of dynamite into a volcano, but Sachs said that has been the biggest success of all.

“We run the gamut of society here,” Sachs said. “We have a larger percentage of people with alcohol, mental and other issues, but that’s what makes me so proud is seeing this community of people living together and getting along together.”

For Jannette Taylor, 37, homeless since January, living without a home is frightening. “But there are a lot of people looking out for me, here.”

Kim Lee has lived in the camp since the first days.

“It’s a different crowd around here about 8:30 at night when people get back from their jobs. The community people have been helpful and the Wilkinsons are the best example of what people in this community are willing to do,” Lee said.

“Overall, things have gone well,” said Cleve Morris, Placerville city manager. “There were some operational issues at first, but that’s common with new ideas and new organizations. We’ve had good discussions and they’ve been able to work through the issues.”

“For people who have been living on their own in the mountains, adhering to our few rules and living in a community helps them get ready to go back into society,” said Parker.
Placerville Police Chief George Nielsen said there have been fewer health and safety issues since the camp opened.
“We’ve been able to get people out of the bushes and the parks and do some cleanup,” Nielsen said. “They are living in a place where they can get services and we can locate them. Not all the homeless are living here, but now we have some tools for moving them to a place, not just pushing sand around. It remains to be seen how a permanent structure would be organized and funded.”

Hangtown Haven Inc. has applied for a 30-day extension to its 90-day special use permit. “We need the time to work out the details of a permanent encampment,” said Edwards. He and Sachs want to keep the camp open during the winter despite the system of nomadic shelters provided by faith-based organizations.

“All they have in the world is in these tents,” said Sachs. “Some people don’t want to leave their tents unattended all night while they are at a shelter. The shelters can be crowded and loud. Shelters are also open from 6:30 at night until 9 in the morning—then where do people go? This is their home and some people don’t want to leave their home.”

Edwards said they have three carports coming to the camp that would be set up in the common area to provide shelter from rain or snow in poor weather and plans for a concrete pad in the common area to replace the gravel if they are approved for a permanent encampment.

 Funding for a permanent camp will run about $2,200 a month, including a $500 monthly lease. Everything up until now has been provided by  donations of money, materials or labor from private donors or faith-based organizations. Tents and sleeping bags are donated by Job’s Shelter of the Sierra from community members who support them.
“Cleve Morris and Vice Mayor Wendy Mattson have been absolutely spectacular and responsible for making this possible,” said Edwards. “The city engineers, the fire chief and police chief helped us design the camp and the community of our city is working together to provide this.”

Placerville resident Chuck Holland who owns property on nearby Point View Drive said he’s opposed to having a legal homeless encampment anywhere in Placerville.

“Having a homeless camp will drop property values, Holland said. “I have no issue with helping homeless people — people who have lost jobs and their homes and have legitimate needs. But some of the people at the camp say they’ve been homeless for 25 years. We don’t need to build a camp for them.” Holland said, if the group is granted an extension of their special use permit, he plans to contact surrounding home owners and file a lawsuit against the city.

On Oct. 15, Hangtown Haven will be the topic of discussion for the city’s Neighborhood Chat. “We’ll use this discussion as a gauge of public opinion about the continuation of the project, “said Morris. The chat will be held 6 p.m. at Town Hall, 549 Main St. in Placerville.


Discussion | 24 comments

  • Foaming at the MouthOctober 07, 2012 - 10:43 pm

    What? Not one comment about what a bad thing this is? Buncha commies...

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  • Justice InsiderOctober 08, 2012 - 8:40 am

    interesting they put a sex offender in the picture for this article.

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  • WasteOTimeOctober 08, 2012 - 11:38 am

    Maybe if the loser with all the tats put that money towards rent instead, he might still be in a house instead of squatting.

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  • Tired of free loadersOctober 08, 2012 - 11:47 am

    A lesson in irony. The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing the greatest amount of free meals and food stamps ever. Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us to "Please Do Not Feed the Animals." Their stated reason for the policy is because the animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves. Here endeth the lesson.

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  • Bill MooreOctober 08, 2012 - 2:49 pm

    And how do you intend on accomodating the hords that will come from Sacramento, San Francisco, or Reno when they hear about all the freebies in Placerville? Have you ever heard of working for a living. Everyday you can find an article or news story about businesses beggging for employees in the Dakotas. They are hiring huge amounts of people and still need alot more. Ever heard of moving to find a job? I guess they dont have to when the generous people of Ca. give food, shelter and medical care away all at the tax payers expence. I come to Placerville to visit my daughter and we always stop for either groceries or something. Well that has stopped. We wont be spending anymore of our money in Placerville.

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  • Fed Up in HangtownOctober 08, 2012 - 3:53 pm

    What a JOKE!! The TRUTH is that the police are there ever day busting up the place. Just drive by and you will see for yourself. This is the worst thing that has happened to our community in a long, long time! Just what our quaint town needed – a bunch of sex offenders, drug addicts and alike roaming our streets at all hours of the day/night. What about a safe passage for our upstanding community members and our children? One more thing negative thing to drop our home values. GO AWAY you freeloaders!!

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  • Foaming at the MouthOctober 08, 2012 - 6:42 pm

    That's what I'm talking' about! The posters around here never disappoint.

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  • Pissed Off!October 08, 2012 - 7:54 pm

    This CRAP has to stop!! Can't even walk across the Coloma St. Bridge without being asked for cigarettes, or money. They should call the downtown parking garage "Hangtown Haven." That's just one part of town. Everywhere I go, these losers are hanging out in every nook and crannie. It's like a fast growing Cancer spreading through out our streets.

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  • White Flower GirlOctober 08, 2012 - 9:14 pm

    if the city manager and the chief of police had anything of substance between their legs they would stand up and take care of the homeless problem. There is know room in Placerville for more free loaders. Arrest them, ticket them, run them out of the illegal camps and return our parks to the tax paying people. Chief, you have a couple of dead weight administrators under your roof. send them out and make them find a cure to the problem, not just give us lip service. Mr. city manager, stop writing sob story recommendation letters to the counsel advocating for a homeless camp. the taxpayers don't want it.

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  • cookie65October 09, 2012 - 4:26 am

    This time of year anyone can get hired in the grape vineyards, but why do that when everything is free.

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  • Dan HicksOctober 09, 2012 - 4:56 am

    Many of these comments reveal the Catch-22 faced by many homeless folks: They're required to be stable, gainfully employed, and law-abiding if they're going to fit in; but at the same time they're harassed by the police and so constantly on the move, stereotyped as lazy and unreliable, and denied legal opportunities to get by. When you're stuck down in the mud, you need a sturdy rock to stand on. That rock's going to get dirty as you try to climb out. That's no reason for those of us up on dry land to kick people off the rock.

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  • Chuck HollandOctober 09, 2012 - 6:19 am

    Dan, the city would hold the responsibility for kicking people off the rock you describe. There are people in our community, and from our community that need assistance. The city's answer to this is Hangtown Haven. Pick the group that can get along with each other the best and and lock them up in a dirt lot on Broadway. For every person residing at the Haven, there are two more wandering the streets. Any day of the week you can drive up Broadway and see the mass of people walking the roads heading to the Upper Room for meals. Creating camps and having a high tolerance for homelessness is slowly turning Placrville into a safe haven city like San Francisco has been for years. Do we really want that? Should we allow the city to turn eastern Placerville into our "tenderloin" district? There's no doubt Placerville has a homeless problem, but there is no reason to escalate the problem at the expense of east Placerville residents, businesses, and property owners. The city needs to find a better solution and remove it's self from the homeless destination map. Other organizations have been very successful sheltering and housing local people with legitimate needs. The Center has a shelter for battered women, New Morning houses youths in need of shelter. Using those models, a useful system to assist those with legitimate needs could be developed.

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  • Underserved TaxpayerOctober 09, 2012 - 6:51 am

    I am on the fence with this issue. On the one hand if I had a relative that was mentally ill I would be glad they were relatively safe in a camp like this. Certainly our counties mental health system is underfunded and over worked. But if the camp were in my neighborhood I am uncertain how I would feel. I do know these folks are our children, brothers and sisters and most have issues coping with society. What are the alternatives? Jail. Lock them all up in a home? With the money the county charges for a building permit there would be no money left to build any kind of a shelter. I say as long as they are following the rules and not making any trouble let them stay. What other realistic options are there?

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  • Seriously?!October 09, 2012 - 6:52 am

    You've got to be kidding me "...a place to charge phones or computers.” Seriously?!! If you can afford wi-fi service for your computer and a cell phone then you can move on! This camp is turning the east end of Placerville into a filthy place. Has anyone considered the environmental impact it is having on Hangtown Creek? This stinks!!! I am with you Chuck Holland. Let us know where we can sign on the line to get this camp abolished!

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  • Bummed OutOctober 09, 2012 - 8:10 am

    Concerned Citizens, If you disagree with the Hangtown Haven then I urge you to write your letter of opposition before the end of the month (October) and mail or drop it off to: City of Placerville, California 3101 Center Street Placerville, Ca 95667 Dear Cleve Morris, Placerville City Manager Dear Art Edwards, City Project Coordinator The "haven" is on a TUP (Temporary Use Permit) and goes back up for review at the end of October. Just because it is there does not mean it has to stay. Ask the city for a copy of the 'Staff Report-Homeless.pdf' and shelter rezoning.pdf

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  • Ex Cheese HeadOctober 09, 2012 - 1:39 pm

    Thanks for the information Bummed Out, letters are written, I'm one voice and I want to be heard. This camp has got to go!! Temporary use permit is for temporary use...period.

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  • MouzerOctober 09, 2012 - 3:58 pm

    Taking a drive through Placerville just disgusts me. What a town of teen tweekers, homeless, and losers. It amazes me that they always still have money for cigs. Maybe Chuck Holland needs to open a business for dummies class called "Any dummy can Raise $85,000.00"! Just grow, smoke and sell marijuana and save to open a business! At least that's what his ex-wife testified.....oh! and there is that informant that's involved - Just turn that stash into cash!!!

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  • Chuck HollandOctober 09, 2012 - 5:14 pm

    If I only had an ex-wife. That's funny stuff Mouzer.

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  • RealityOctober 09, 2012 - 5:44 pm

    I understand all of your frustrations, but what do you suppose we do about the homeless? They have to sleep somewhere. It's a reality in our community. I wonder how many of them are able to get back onto their feet because of this camp.

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  • Once WasOctober 09, 2012 - 6:42 pm

    It seems that many people making these comments have not been homeless before. I on the other hand have. I would've loved to have a legal place to sleep back then. If it weren’t for the assistance of those around me, I wouldn't be where I am today. Many of these people sound like they've recently became homeless. Just because they've lost their home, doesn't mean they lost their phone or computer. Wifi is free in some areas. They have facilities to dispose of their waste. Now what if they didn't? Then I would be worried more about the creek. I live not even a mile from Hangtown Haven. Yes, I see everybody walking around. I saw the Haven come alive, and it makes me happy. Now previous Placerville renters/homeowners have a safe place to go. I'm not bothered by them, they rarely ask for anything from me. If anything most of them are very respectful to me. That’s probably because I treat them with respect. Maybe that's a lesson many of the posters should learn. Have some empathy.

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  • Pissed Off!!October 09, 2012 - 8:57 pm

    Hey "Once Was" I was homeless myself back in the early 80's after leaving here only to end up in L.A. I blamed everybody but myself. I finally got tired of nowhere to sleep, pulled my head out of my ass, got off of my "pity potty" because I had nowhere to turn other than look at myself. Things were not handed to me, and had I had a handout like the "Hangtown Haven," I would probably never have gotten off the streets. A long story short, I now own a home here, and pay my fair share of taxes. I have no sympathy for people who expect everybody else to fund, and feed their lazy freeloading ways. Trust me, there is a way out, and it's not from hand outs!

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  • Dan HicksOctober 10, 2012 - 4:42 am

    As of just a few months ago, California continued to have one of the highest underemployment rates in the country, at 20%. That means 1 out of 5 Californians can't find as much work as they'd like. (Source: California was hit hard by the Great Recession. Certainly self-reliance is a virtue. But so is compassion for people who suffer pure bad luck. Hangton Haven is being called a "handout." But, from what I read in this story, it aims to be a safe place to sleep and take care of some other necessities. It's even on privately owned land, with work donated by private individuals. No money is changing hands, much less taxpayer money. I suspect some people here are letting prejudice and fear of People Who Are Different override other values -- like freedom and neighborliness -- that folks in the foothills usually hold dear.

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  • Bummed OutOctober 11, 2012 - 8:22 am

    ATTENTION!! There will be a Neighborhood Chat to discuss the topic of Hangtown Haven and it's validity on Monday, Oct. 15th from 6-8pm at the Placerville Town Hall. Be there if you care about the future of our town!! Keep the letters coming in. This meeting is needed because "they" (City Council) need our input on the issue since they shoved this camp down our throats without our opinion in the first place. See you there!

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  • Danna God's ChildOctober 16, 2012 - 9:33 am

    After reading all of the negative (and few positive) comments, my heart broke for the way society has become desensitized. We will all stand before one God one day. Where is the compassion? The empathy? So many folks seem so hard and angry, I just don't get it. The homeless are people, we are all people. Just because I have a roof over my head doesn't make me any different then them. I never realized I live in a community of snobs and uncaring people. It breaks my heart.

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