Three of the four resident Community Council members for Hangtown Haven, Ken Green, James Adkins and Frank M., talked to the Mountain Democrat on Thursday, two days after they received word that the legal encampment will close on Nov. 15. The county did not approve the camp’s relocation to Perk’s Court, off of Missouri Flat Road, and the city of Placerville’s Temporary Use Permit allowing the camp to exist legally expires on Nov. 15. Hangtown Haven’s 30 residents, some of whom have the first stability they have known in years, will be back on the streets, looking for some place to live.
Some will go to the Nomadic Shelters that open Nov. 1, rotating among Green Valley Community Church, Cold Springs Church, United Methodist and Solid Rock Faith Church. While the council members worked at the shelters as volunteers last year and are grateful for the community response that keeps them running, there are concerns.
“We’re a little concerned about putting 30 people into the shelters all at once,” said Green, site coordinator for Hangtown Haven. “Last year, the shelters had about 48 people staying there at first and then about 60 toward the end of the winter — with the camp closed we’ll have more than that number right from the beginning and the shelters are small. They ‘ll be overrun.”
The shelters are open only at night and the people who stay there are not allowed to bring their possessions with them. Currently, there is nowhere for the homeless to go during the day.
Camp residents are leaving with sadness at the loss of the family unit and support structure they’ve created in the year since the camp’s opening, but without anger at the city’s enforcement of the expiration of the Temporary Use Permit.
“We understand the city’s decision and we have received tremendous support from them,” said Adkins. “Their hands are tied and they’ve got to keep their word. We’re not lashing out at them and we don’t want to disrespect the city in any way. They’ve been great.”
There’s concern that some of the residents will fall back into patterns of addiction without the support of the camp structure. “For some of the people here, this was like a rehab place,” said Frank M. “Now, outside, they are going to be surrounded by people who are using. Around sober people it’s easier to stay sober.”
Another concern is the fragility of some of the elderly and medically challenged people from the camp. “Some of them would have a hard time in the shelters,” said Green.
Adkins related several cases of people in the camp who were referred to Hangtown Haven from Marshall Hospital. “We watch over them, make sure they take their medication,” said Adkins. “One guy came here a wreck, couldn’t remember when to take his medication. He was a diabetic. In four months here, he was making dinner for 20 people, going to doctor’s appointments, taking care of himself. A total 360. He just recently moved out to his own place.”
“At the camp, we help each other get to doctor’s appointments and get to jobs. The probation and parole departments can find us easily, those that are on probation, and it’s been an ideal situation for assisting people who have medical problems,” said Frank M. He mourns the Haven’s used van, recently donated by Wells Auto Sales. “We just got this and it was going to make it easy to get to jobs.”
Green, Adkins and Frank M. point out that the complaints about the homeless causing problems refer to those camping illegally — ones that aren’t allowed in to live in the camp because of not meeting the camp criterion or who have been kicked out of it.
“We have rules for being here; we do background checks and we don’t allow alcohol or drugs,” said Green. “I’ve been here since before the camp opened and we’ve grown and learned how to be together and help each other. People need a place they can take a breath and be dry and safe before they can start to set goals and think about getting out of being homeless.”
“People from our camp are not the ones that the businesses and people have complaints about,” said Adkins. “Only about 6 of us use the Upper Room — we pool our food stamps and cook for each other, taking turns and cleaning up. We didn’t like the way some of the people there disrespected the servers at Upper Room, so we stopped going.”
The scatter of camp residents in November will eliminate the emotional support and structure the camp has provided. “There is nowhere to continue that support and some of the people here who have made a lot of progress, are only about three months away from being able to leave and get their own place,” said Adkins. “That will fall apart when they are back to trying to survive in a different place every night.”
The jealousy and resentment that some illegal campers feel toward the camp residents is also causing concern about what will happen when they are all mixed together in the shelters.
“The camp leaving Broadway doesn’t make homelessness go away,” said Green. “The people who are causing trouble will still be here and now we’ll have a lot of other people who will be out here too.”
“When we move out of this property, the illegal campers will probably move in,” said Frank M. “We are like the front line security for the people who live on this property and we protect it from people who would trash it.”
Still, the three council members are buoyed by the success of the camp and optimistic about one day having a new location for it. “This is not the end,” said Green. “It’s a pause. This camp is all about helping people.”
For more information about Hangtown Haven, visit the Website at hangtownhaven.org.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.