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Ann Arbor’s homeless tent city faces scrutiny after string of small crimes

By Brienne Prusak, Managing News Editor
Published July 16, 2011

Ann Arbor’s self-governed homeless tent city, Camp Take Notice, has recently gained attention among the community for their alleged involvement in small crimes in the neighborhood around the campground.

Lt. Brian Filipiak of the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department said neighbors near CTN — located west of I-94 off Wagner Road — expressed concern over "suspicious activity," like people throwing personal belongings and jumping over the guardrails of the overpass.

The neighborhood has also seen an increase in parking violations in relation to CTN, mostly from volunteers parking in no-parking zones, Filipiak said.

However, the only crime the department can tie directly back the homeless population at CTN is an incident where neighbors reported a patio set had been stolen from their property and was later recovered from the camp, according to Filipiak.

CTN leader Caleb Poirier said he doesn’t believe the people living in the camp are harming the community, but rather they are serving as additional “eyes and ears” to better watch over the neighborhood.

“I don’t fault people for having anxiety of (crimes),” Piorier said. “I think it’s an understandable concern, but this population is not necessarily of more trouble than the people who are residing in the area.”

All residents of CTN are required to promise to restrain from using illegal substances and must sign an agreement upon moving to the camp stating they won’t engage in violent activity or behave in ways disruptive to the community. Poirier said those who break CTN rules are evicted and removed from camp premises.

Poirier said the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department has been a great resource for them, and the department makes weekly visits to the camp, as requested by CTN.

“I think (the Sheriff’s Department) has made the best of a difficult situation, and I have no complaints with the way they’ve treated us,” Poirier said.

University graduate student Jeff Albanese, a former board member of MISSION and an anthropology and social work doctoral student who studies contemporary tent cities, said CTN has a good relationship with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department and people are drawing “premature” connections between crime and homelessness that further marginalize the homeless population.

Albanese added the general public thinks of the homeless population as a group prone to crime, but said “tent cities do not breed crime” but rather are part of the “American landscape” and have existed peacefully for years.

“There isn’t any concrete evidence between CTN residence and the crimes (around the camp),” Albanese added.

Mark Geib, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Brighton Transportation Service Center, said while CTN has been on MDOT property for more than a year, they’ve had little concerns with the camp, though they do at times worry about safety issues.

Despite the occasional concern from community members, CTN has served as an alternative housing option for the community’s homeless population as local shelters have faced difficulty amid tough economic times.