By Haley Spigner, Street Outreach and Resource Navigator
I keep a small notebook in my bag to jot down quotes from folks I meet with during the week that make me think or laugh or blush or cry (usually at least two of those simultaneously). Two of my recent favorites are from the same man: “You gotta be the strangest woman I ever met!” and “What’s with your hair? It looks like you stuck your entire head in a wall socket” both of which I have decided are compliments. The majority of my notebook is filled with little quotes like these that brighten my day but some notes I make aren’t nearly as light-hearted.
When I first started as an outreach worker, Lindsey took me around and showed me camps that I needed to be sure and touch base with on nights that our teams were out canvassing. She told me little snippets about the folks that lived in the camps and then we moved on to the next spot I needed to make a note of…
“Oh and don’t forget Cliff over there in that patch of woods! He’s been there for years and we’ve fought to keep him there, he will need propane when it gets really bad out here.”
I checked on the tent that she had pointed out several times in the coming weeks but didn’t find anyone in it until one day I finally met Cliff at a community center and we chatted for a long time. He had lived in his camp for a number of years and was proud to call it home. It was a really great spot, far enough back in the woods that no one would notice him…until someone did. The surrounding neighborhood is quickly being sold and remodeled (read: gentrified) and the new neighbors had an issue with Cliff and those that had moved in around him being there, despite not even being able to see them and their tents through the woods.
It got to the point that we had to start making plans to move everyone to other campsites in the area. Other camps that are also illegally existing, let us all remember, offering a temporary fix at best. As I talked to Lindsey about what could be done, she called it a “death march” and that has stuck with me. When camps are discovered, it is always just a matter of time until folks are told to move along. As more and more apartments and condos are being built in the “It City,” more and more camps are being closed, with their residents having nowhere to go while they wait on housing with no clear timeline. Finally we moved Cliff to another already existing camp and now we are all just buying time until till the “No Trespassing” signs appear…
I had a really hard time deciding if I wanted to share this or not because there is no resolution to this story, no big bow to tie up all the loose ends. I worried it was too dark or serious because at the end of this post, I still have many friends that live in tents and that is still illegal and there are still people in houses that have issues with those tents being in their neighborhoods. I decided to still post it though (clearly, since you are reading it) because while living in this weird tension, it’s been really important for me to remember that life isn’t all giggles but it isn’t all tears either. I’m slowly learning to hold this tension while I sit with my friends and listen to them express their anger and frustration at being made to move time and time again but I also get to eat lunch with Cliff and listen to him laugh at how frizzy the rain makes my hair.