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  • Writer's pictureD Lane

A tale of two [tent] cities

River Street (not Ross)

I sometimes tell myself that I don’t particularly relish being in middle of controversy -- so it’s probably stupid for me to write about encampments occupied by people who are homeless. On the other hand, I spend a lot of time on the eternally controversial issue of homelessness so it equally stupid of me to claim that I avoid controversy. Anyways... here I go on encampments.

Perhaps the stupidest part of the local encampments controversy is the failure of some folks to distinguish between “unsanctioned” encampments such as the Ross camp and structured, managed camps such as the once and future River Street camp (which has been and will be located on River Street just north of the Tannery and the Metro bus lot).

Managed camps such as the River Street camp have formal rules, formal occupancy limits, waste disposal systems and structured connections between camp residents and various services that could help improve each resident’s situation. This kind of camp has a structure that allows it to have strong formal and informal relationships with the neighborhood and the larger community.

It’s understandable that people would have a negative reaction against a new managed camp in their neighborhood in light of all the coverage of real problems at the Ross camp. It’s even more understandable when a city government (not so smartly) drops the idea of locating that camp in a neighborhood without a really good community process on making siting decisions. However, some of that negative reaction was a bit stupid because it assumed that a managed camp would have just the same problems as the Ross camp


The previous version of the River Street camp was quite successful on several levels. It was thoughtfully structured and managed. It was a safe place for its residents. It was clean. There were connections to other services and work to help people get out of homelessness. And the relationship with the immediate neighbors was generally positive. (It was not perfect: it was quite expensive to operate and it did have some entry/exit rules that some felt were overly restrictive.)

Anyways, managed camps are not my favorite approach to addressing homelessness because they have not historically done a lot to transition people into long-term housing. However, they are one useful tool in helping keeping folks safe and connected... if we can ever find sites acceptable to the housed residents of our community. (More on this later!)

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