By Christy Houghton
"Camp United We Stand, it's 8 AM on Move Day!", someone shouts from the middle of the homeless encampment. "Camp United We Stand, it's 8 AM on Move Day!" Time for people to get up and start packing. Pastor Rick, who runs a late-night shelter referral system in Seattle called Operation Nightwatch, brings much appreciated hot coffee and donuts. Saturday morning, February 18th, begins chilly and damp.
“We All Do What We Can to Help.”
Tom, who worked in construction for 25 years, had been elected Advance Camp Master for the move. He’ll coordinate setup at the new location. Another camp resident has been elected to coordinate the packing up at the old site. Earlier in the week, Tom had worked with a camp resident who is an electrician to design the new site’s layout and tent spots. There are fire codes and city regulations to be met. Tom explains that the community tents will go up first, and electricity hooked up. Then a fence will be built around the camp, except where the thick sticker bushes on one side provide a natural protection. Carport structure flooring and raised walkways for the community tents need to be rebuilt, along with the pallet tent floors for the campers.
A Grueling DayFor most of the 35 camp residents, it’s a grueling day that starts in the morning and will end long after dark. Before the move, supplies were packed up from the community areas: kitchen, donations, office, and TV room. After the move, there’s unpacking and setup to be done. Moving the camp to a new location takes a full week of effort.
11:30 AMAn old rock song plays on a radio, and there’s a lot of movement in the encampment. People are taking apart the plywood flooring from the community tents, or loading personal belongings and tents into the trucks.
|Assembling a community tent|
4:00 PMAt the old site, the shy woman looks tired, but says with a ready smile, "It's going well. People are helping each other." A man carrying a heavy-looking bundle nods his head in agreement. Their clothing is wet and muddy.
At the new site, there’s a small table with some dishes and food. Some wonderful neighbor had dropped off spaghetti and garlic bread. There are more people working on setup, and the music plays here now. A long extension cord runs across this side of the church’s parking lot, and pallets are stacked in piles. People keep moving, doing whatever is needed to help. It's still raining.
Up Past MidnightEarly on Sunday, Christopher, one of the camp’s elected leaders, is the first person back to the old site. It’s mostly bare, but there's a small structure that will be hauled with a trailer, and a few tarp-covered piles left to move. He says everyone cleared out of here at 10:30 last night. They were all up past midnight, pitching their own tents after reassembling the pallet floors. Warming up by the propane heater in one of the community tents kept Christopher going. He’s gotten about three and half hours of sleep.
“This Really Sucks.”The temporary homeless camps get a 90-day permit, with an extension if needed. Every three months or so, the whole camp must move.
|Morning after Move Day at the new site|
More Work to DoSunday morning at the new site, Tom carries a partial pallet under each arm, looking exhausted. He hadn't set up his own tent or slept, because people needed help all night. Three campers chose not to participate in the move. Since they didn’t help the camp move, they'll be 'site barred' according to the community’s rules: not welcome to stay for the next three months. For everyone else, there’s still more work to do. A fence to be put up and community tents to be organized.
The next Move Day is May 13th.