A homeless Encampment is a community of people living together in public on land that doesn’t belong to them.
Each encampment has a culture: a time to do chores, a time to work, quiet time. Every encampment has an internally identified leader or leadership crew.
Why live there?
Safety and community. There is safety in numbers and people have to be invited to belong. Sometimes this requires paying a membership fee. Street Families are a real thing.
Why leave there?
Well, here is the thing. Each person has to have their own reason to leave. If you can’t identify a reason, and can’t help meet that need…well, nothing is going to change.
Why they are important in the conversation about homelessness.
Most homeless folk have been in a “system” of some sort: foster care, jail, other social services. They might be service resistant because of prior bad experiences. An encampment is made out of homeless folk so an outsider is seen as suspicious.
An outsider with a private agenda is an interloper. Nobody asked to be judged or saved.
So, how to be effective
- Build a relationship with the PEOPLE who live there.
- Meet the leaders.
- Find out what THEY want
- Be honest about your menu of services
- Be consistent. Show up when you say you will.
- Follow up and follow through.
Find the needs you can think about meeting…
Water, toilets, sanitation, laundry showers, trash pick up, protection from the elements,
And have that service in your pocket before approaching that community.
And I would ask you to respect the bonds people have with each other before deciding to “destroy” an encampment.