The Ann Arbor City Council approved a resolution plan on Jan. 20 regarding the city’s protocol for handling homeless camps. The plan was developed in response to Forestbrooke residents’ complaints that a camp has grown in size since last summer, causing a disturbance on private property. According to Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3), neighbors had previously been using the private property as a community area. The now-evicted homeless camp, known as Camp Serenity, was one of the several establishments in Ann Arbor where displaced citizens have set up tents and created a sense of community. The city responded appropriately to these complaints by evicting the members whose tents were on private property. Now, City Council is considering a more proactive plan to relocate those living under such conditions. Beyond working on short-term solutions, the city needs to develop a more thorough eviction plan that works to curb the systemic issues facing the city’s homeless population.
Kunselman has made it clear that this is not an issue to which Ann Arbor can turn a blind eye. The homeless population is very present in Washtenaw County with a population estimated between 3,000 and 4,000 people. Clearly, for many campers, relocation is not realistic. Along with significant transportation issues to shelters that make many of them inaccessible, these shelters also suffer from a lack of available resources. For example, the Delonis Center only has 75 beds for its year-round residential program. Furthermore, homeless citizens might have difficulty capitalizing on assistance due to anxiety or other mental disorders.
Earlier this month, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority voted to pursue an ambassador program that would put paid ambassadors on the streets to help the homeless and mentally ill, although that role is not clearly defined. While street monitors may be helpful in identifying issues of safety or pointing out individuals who need help, the money allocated, approximately $300,000, would be better spent directly on initiatives that directly improve the circumstances surrounding the homeless population’s condition. Services such as educational programs, career workshops, psychiatric services, and drug and alcohol abuse treatment are all resources shelters must have in order to begin to change the systematic issue.
Another long-term problem is the lack of affordable housing in Ann Arbor. The high costs of housing make it difficult even for employed homeless people to pay for housing and reintegrate back into society. Highridge Costa Housing Partners had plans to build affordable housing units in 2007 on the property where Camp Serenity was located . The project has not been successful because the developer has not been able to obtain highly competitive, low-income tax credits granted by the state.
These problems will not dissipate if the council chooses to ignore or respond with eviction only after receiving complaints, which is what happened with Camp Serenity. In order to relocate the homeless off private property and into caring hands, councilmembers must create attainable options rather than waiting until they are forced to evict campers who are, quite frankly, stuck in the muck.