From last November until mid-August, a homeless encampment occupied the vacant lots behind Peace House Community. Over the months various people came and went from the camp, bringing with them tents, bicycles, generators, and a host of other items. Many others stopped by during the day and the night, sometimes to say hi to friends or to drop off supplies, and sometimes for less socially acceptable behaviors.
The camp presented various challenges for PHC. We do our best to serve homeless individuals, among
others, and we want to reduce the stigma that goes with being homeless. However, we recognize that
homelessness and criminal activity sometimes go together. The homeless are often the victims of the
crimes, while at other times they are the ones breaking the laws. In the case of this encampment, every
property on our block suffered vandalism, theft, threats, and in one case arson. Often our missing items
turned up in the encampment. But many of the problems stemmed not from the residents but from
predators coming to the camp to take advantage of those living there.
Like everyone else on our block, we were relieved when the encampment was cleared and the owners
of the lots were able to put up a fence.
And yet …
Shortly after the camp started, I talked with the residents about minimizing the problems for PHC and
our neighbors. We discussed where they should put their garbage and other basic details. And many of
the camp’s residents did their best to be good neighbors. They kept the camp as clean as they could.
They told newcomers not to bother the neighbors. They tracked down and returned stolen items. I often
saw campers sweeping up around their tents. When you remember that they lived in a dirt lot, you
realize how comical the sight that could be. But you also realize how dedicated some of the residents
were to being responsible and not letting others suffer because of their situation.
I spoke to the police officers who supervised the clearing of the camp. One of the officers commented
on how few needles they had seen. Normally, he explained, a camp that had been around and grown as
big as this one would leave hundreds or thousands of needles on the ground from rampant drug use.
This time, he had seen almost none.
Yes, the camp caused a lot of problems. But like most situations in life, making a blanket judgement that
everyone in the camp caused problems would be too simple and misleading. Some of the residents were
actually better neighbors, taking more care of their “property”, than some homeowners and renters
living within a few blocks.
And so, thank-you to Francis, Ayshia, Robin, Supaman, and everyone who tried their best to be good
neighbors while living in the camp.
by Marti Malby, Director Peace House Community – A Place to Belong
This article originally appeared in “The Alley,” the newspaper for the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.