Friday, October 30, 2015

Homeless Car Camp

My church community has been interested for over a year in undertaking a project to house the homeless. Members visited a community of tiny houses (Quixote Village in Olympia) and then discussed the feasibility of such a project in our county. Numerous issues emerged: who should live in such houses; must they be clean and sober; how can we afford land for the project, since undeveloped land in this area is rare and expensive?

Eventually the volunteers decided to start small. Beginning on November 16, the church will be hosting five families in a car camp in the church parking lot. Here's some of what we know so far:
  • Families will be referred by the homeless advocate for the local school district, so each resident family will have at least one student attending school in the district.
  • Everyone over 13 will have a background check - both volunteers and campers.
  • Families will arrive between 8:30 and 9:15 in the evening and will leave between 6:00 and 9:15 in the morning.
  • No alcohol or drugs can be used in the camp.
  • A porta-potty will be available.
  • A cellphone charging area will be provided.  
  • A church volunteer will have a 24/7 phone available for campers to call as needs arise.
  • One day a week (to start) campers will have morning access to a shower inside the church. The number of shower days will increase as more volunteers sign up for the early morning shift.
  • Volunteers will welcome campers in the evenings, supervise showers in the mornings, and wash towels. Volunteers get to sign up for what they want to do and how often.
  • If temperatures drop below 34 degrees, a cold weather shelter opens in town. On those nights, the car camp will be closed. We want the families to go to the cold weather shelter because that facility will provide them with a hot meal in the evening, breakfast, and a sack lunch. Our church community is responsible for the cold weather shelter on Mondays.
  • Volunteers have become familiar with the "companionship" model. No counseling or professional services will be offered, though an information sheet will be provided for each family.
  • After 90 days of residence, a family has to reapply to the car camp. The intention is that camping will be a temporary situation for the families.
The team organizing this project called an information meeting this week, and I'd say more than 50 people showed up. Team members acknowledged we're kind of making it up as we go - flexibility has to be the key even while we comply with the law.

I'm one of two volunteer coordinators, making sure we have signups for each available position, and calling or emailing volunteers to remind them of their time slots. I'll be in Tucson for the winter, but this is something I can do no matter where I live. I'm glad to be able to participate in this project.

The team says we are the only church in our county to try this, and that others are watching. If we're successful, we may be the first of many to provide this help to the homeless.


DJan said...

This sounds simply wonderful to me, Linda. I am thrilled to learn that you are able to do something so concrete for some of the homeless. Kudos to you and all who are organizing this. :-)

Eileen said...

What an intriguing idea! Please keep us up to date on how it goes. I know I live in a small town/rural area that happes to be a resort and there are lots of homeless here during the summer. They try living in their cars but, of course, there are laws against that! Plus they wouldn't have access to showers. Interested to hear more.

Linda Reeder said...

This sounds like a very sensible way to get started on helping homeless families. Good work so far!

#1Nana said...

Good for you! The homeless project I volunteer with also focuses on doing something even though it's small and grassroots. We also talked about the need for permanent housing, but decided that we needed to start with what we could do right now. This year we have a better location and can serve more people. Slow and day we'll win the race.

Anonymous said...

Definitely interested in how this turns out. Please keep posting updates.

Sally Wessely said...

Good for you. Homelessness is pervasive. Thankfully, there are those who care enough to do something about it.

Friko said...

Well done you and the other volunteers. There’s too much indifference in this world and we should all do what we can for those less fortunate than us.

I salute you!

Pam said...

You are definitely a born organizer, Linda. And you and the other volunteers will definitely be the hands of God as you offer help to those in need. I will pray for this project, the volunteers and the recipients. May God bless your efforts!

Linda Myers said...

I'm not on the core team. I just attended the meeting and signed up. I like the idea of local helping.

Tom said...

A noble and ambitious plan. I doubt it will be "simply" wonderful. I'd guess there will be lots of complications ... but it will be wonderful nonetheless.

Sandi said...

Wow! This is so uplifting to read about. I know there will be glitches, but it sounds like there are lots of folks interested in making this workable. What a blessing for those families - to be able to shower, charge phones, and sleep with a feeling of safety - is huge. I'll be praying for this to be a rousing success, and a catalyst for more to follow! Linda, your energy and willingness to help others never ceases to amaze me! When I grow up, I hope to be more like you. :) hugs!