Monday, January 16, 2012

Power to the Campers! (And Bring on the Politicans!)

James, one of the coordinators of Camp Hope
When is "camping" not really camping? When it's done for survival.

Sadly but predictably, the theme of "ending homelessness in 10 years" has faded like the Wendy's iconic commercial asking "Where's the beef?" The hucksters that sold the bill of goods to the unquestioning lawmakers and the public really didn't pay attention to (or give a rat's ass) how this strategy would work with the economy tanking (even in the early 2000s some folks were coming up short).

So now we have a slogan and no money (they say) to end homelessness. What's a woman (or man) to do? Camp. Well, if you can call survivalism camping.

Last week on my western leg of my HEAR US tour, I visited a municipally-sanctioned campground in Las Cruces, NM. Camp Hope, the latest addition to the Community of Hope, a campus on the edge of LC with services for the desperate and disenfranchised, was set up in November to accommodate at least some of the hundreds of homeless men and women roaming this mid-sized city's streets.

It gets cold here. And hot. And the gospel mission across from Camp Hope which houses those willing to pray for their place in a crowded dorm room still has plenty of customers. Folks still roam the streets, and sleep wherever they can when they can. It's a hell of a life.

Perhaps the brightest spot of this short-term venture (it's slated to close in March--just in time for the winds and crappy weather to blow in) are the guys who've organized it and the attitude of the "campers" who occupy this dusty patch behind the Community of Hope building.

Matthew and James are the dream team coordinating this effort. They share the Camp Hope office trailer--as administrators and as residents of CHTC--a tough combo to balance. One compensates for the other--PR spokesperson, as impressively demonstrated in this Jan. 1 article in the Albuquerque Journal.  But they both take their responsibilities seriously, and they're both rightfully proud of what they've done.

They should be. As the founder of the nation's 1st municipally-sanctioned Tent City in Aurora, IL way back in 1990, I know of the challenges this type of establishment presents. The findings of my unannounced visit would earn them a 5-star rating. Safety, respect, responsibility...those are priorities.

One caveat--which we discussed--was that their success might lull the unenlightened to think that sleeping under the stars, albeit under a nylon wall--would be considered a solution to homelessness, much like the snake oil salesman promised in the early 2000s.
The other critical issue --homeless families are still shelter-less in Las Cruces. That hurts my heart the most. As it should all the leaders and citizens of this otherwise delightful community of the City of Crosses.
What these enterprising guys prove is that people without homes are not without the ability to accomplish great things. They've committed to the concept of communal responsibility and neighborliness far more than the hoity-toity folks in fancy digs.

Maybe going backwards is a good thing. Sure will be lots of us looking for nice neighborhoods for our campers and tents. They invited me to join them. With gas prices heading upward, it's a tempting offer! At the very least the presidential candidates should stop by.

Seems to me Mayor Ken Miyagishima has an important issue in his 2nd term of office. Make sure families have a safe place to stay when they lose their housing. I think with all the big-box stores shuttered he might consider setting up a family version of Tent City inside, using tents to provide "rooms" for parents and kids. He can get valuable pointers from James and Matt about empowering people and campground logistics.