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Tents for homeless still pitched at Camp Take Notice

Torehan Sharman/Daily
Caleb Poirier discusses his past and how he came to be an organizer for Camp Take Notice. Buy this photo

Daily Staff Reporter
Published May 16, 2010

Despite recent trouble with the Michigan State Police, Camp Take Notice — a self-governing group of homeless individuals living in tents — still hopes to remain a viable shelter option for the homeless in Washtenaw County.

With the county’s homeless population growing too quickly for local homeless shelters to accommodate, the residents of CTN and the members of Michigan Itinerant Shelter System: Independent out of Necessity—the non-profit organization that supports CTN — want to bring to Washtenaw County a tent city model that has proved successful in Seattle, Washington.

Caleb Poirier, one of the founding residents of CTN, brought the concept of an organized, self-governing tent city to Ann Arbor after spending two years in a tent city in Seattle. Poirer said the tent cities in Seattle organized by the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort, or SHARE — an organization that aims to eradicate homelessness — have proved to be successful alternatives to shelters.

The first major tent city in Seattle began in 1990 when a group of homeless individuals pitched an army tent without permission on public land. The group managed itself with democratically elected officers and no staff, eventually growing to between 150 and 160 people.

Taking up residence in an abandoned motel, the tent city founded SHARE to educate communities about homelessness and empowering the homeless.

A second Seattle tent city started in 1998, again on public land without permission. But while members of the camp were at City Hall negotiating their right to stay on the land, the camp was bulldozed off of a cliff.

Lantz Rowland, a resident of the third tent city to be created, said one of the major advantages of a tent city over a shelter is its flexible hours, especially for residents who work a graveyard shift.

“People can come and go as they please. We can take people day or night,” he said. “Contrary to popular opinion…we have people who do work.”

Rowland also emphasized the importance of having a place to keep one’s personal belongings, especially when going for job interviews.

“I don’t have to carry everything I own on my back,” he said. “And the stuff that’s in my tent is protected by my neighbors.”

Just as the tent cities in Seattle offer homeless individuals an alternative to the overtaxed shelters, CTN wants to offer a similar option for Ann Arbor’s growing homeless population.

According to the Washtenaw County Office of Community Development, the number of homeless people in the county has grown from 3,940 in 2006 to 4,618 in 2009.

Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of The Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, said people who make less than 15 dollars an hour will struggle to house themselves in Ann Arbor.

These days, Schulmeister said, it is especially difficult for homeless individuals to land even the lowest-paying jobs.

“They say there’s something like six applications for every job. Our person is number six — they used to be maybe number three, but now they’re number six,” she said. “You’ve got students and people with degrees and better work histories ahead of them now competing for lower-paying jobs and lower-skilled jobs just because they are desperate to find a job.”

Food Gatherers, a food bank and resource program in Washtenaw County, and Feed America, a national hunger relief organization, reported in a study released in February that 43,900 people in the county use Food Gatherers’ emergency food services — a 138-percent increase since 2006.