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A haven for the homeless

Jake Fromm/Daily
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BY SUZANNE JACOBS

Published September 20, 2010

A little more than three miles west of the University is a small, unassuming patch of woods wedged between Wagner Road and I-94. To any passersby, the unkempt piece of land is nothing more than a blur on the periphery, but to some, the underbelly of that thick canopy of leaves is home — at least for now.

Camp Take Notice is an adult-only, self-governing, drug and alcohol-free community of individuals who, for reasons specific to each person, can’t afford traditional housing. So, inhabitants resort to living in tents, a basic form of shelter they can provide for themselves.

Looking around at the 20 to 30 residents of CTN, it might not take long to see a familiar face, maybe even a few. That’s because during the day, the campers venture into town to go to work or look for employment, to stop by the public library, to visit friends and family or to do any number of other activities any typical Ann Arbor resident might do.

During his stay at the camp this summer, CTN resident Mikey, for example, usually got up between 5:30 and 6 a.m. for the free breakfast offered at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on North Division. After breakfast, he headed to the library to check his e-mail and then looked around town for work as a day laborer. For Mikey — who, like many CTN residents, wished to conceal his last name — distinctions between him and the rest of the Ann Arbor community lay only in where he lives.

“Once I get into town, I’m just, you know, another person walking down the sidewalk,” he said with a casual shrug and flick of his cigarette. “That’s really the only difference between me and the guy next to me walking down the sidewalk, is at the end of the day he goes home to his house, I go home to my tent.”

Mikey, 31, drove a shuttle bus at the Detroit Metro Airport for four years until he was laid off at the beginning of this summer. He was one of many airport employees, he said, who lost their jobs to the recession and were denied unemployment benefits.

After about two and a half months without any sort of income, Mikey eventually found himself at the Delonis Center — a homeless shelter on Huron Avenue. After being asked to leave the shelter for using the elevator without permission, he sought refuge at CTN. Mikey said he knew about the camp because he had visited as a volunteer when living at the shelter.

Like Mikey, everyone at the camp has a different story to tell, but one thing they all have in common is the part where they pitch a tent at CTN.

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Ann Arbor native Caleb Poirier founded CTN in 2009. His story began a few years prior, when a medical condition resulted in him losing his job as a paramedic at the University hospital. Not wanting his friends and family to see him in a situation where he could not provide for himself, Poirier moved to Seattle, Washington. Without any income, he soon became homeless and took shelter at a local 100-person tent city run by the non-profit organization Seattle Housing and Resource Effort. By the end of his two years in Seattle, Poirier had become a community organizer for the camp.

The possibility of starting a tent city in Ann Arbor started to creep into Poirier’s mind after a family emergency brought him back from the West Coast in August 2008. Upon his return, he began to realize that the shelter system in Washtenaw County could not adequately accommodate the local homeless population.

According to Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, the limited capacity of the shelter system leaves about 200 to 300 people out on the streets on any given night.

“There isn’t a community that I know of that has enough shelter beds,” she said.


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