On election day, a group of protestors who call themselves “Camp Misfit” rallied against current local homelessness policies, citing an incident this past summer in which Ann Arbor police ordered about 20 of Washtenaw County’s 3,000-4,000 homeless people to pack up their belongings from behind a Kroger and find a new location. That incident wasn’t isolated: In June 2012, “Camp Take Notice” — a known community of homeless people — was also shut down after Ann Arbor Police cited the camp for trespassing violations. Under current protocol, local authorities gave them 48 hours to completely evacuate the area. The evicted group are calling for an expanision of the current policy, asking for a five-day notice in lieu of the two-day notice, as well as eviction documentation from property owners and immediate contact with social service agencies. The city, along with the rest of Washtenaw County, should renew efforts to provide better assistance to homeless people in the future.

As it stands, the 48-hour period before homeless men and women are forced to relocate isn’t enough. According to protester Sheri Wander, “It’s dangerous if you don’t have time to take your stuff with you… If you only have a few hours or one day’s notice, that leaves you vulnerable to the elements and crime.” The local police argue that this is simply standing protocol; however, that protocol isn’t in tune with the difficulties associated with relocating. Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, told MLive that the shelter is full. Even when more beds are introduced under the winter program, Schulmeister said those beds will be taken quickly. The requested five-day notice will give them more time to evaluate their options with the limited available options.

Camp Misfit is also asking for a social services agency to be told when an eviction occurs, as well as a written request from the owners of the property that the homeless people were occupying. Increasing communication between police and these agencies can help ensure that social services can offer the appropriate services as soon as possible and connect the homeless with resources to help them find jobs and a permanent home. It also allows these agencies to compile data of current homeless populations with the hopes of generating long-term action to aid the homeless. While these options may seem like quick fixes, the proposed changes not only give the affected population what they want, but they also offer long-term impacts to a persisting problem.

While the changes do address very specific needs for the county’s homeless residents, more work needs to be done to ensure that there are permanent solutions instead of temporary camps. While there are shelters in the county, they are more than 10 miles away from Ann Arbor — inaccessible for those without adequate transportation. If the city want to ensure that homeless people throughout the county have a place to live, then the scope of housing options needs to be expanded.

While the Shelter Association provides employment assistance, it’s clear that more action is required to reduce homelessness across Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County. Access to opportunities for jobs, job interviews and application coaching are necessary to prepare the homeless for a life after homelessness.

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