Felker Area Encampment

When other camps are being shut down for "public nuisance," and activists are protesting the city, this large encampment is a model of what's possible. Camp residents work with a nearby homeless services program to remove trash weekly. This camp has been in place for 10 months and has become increasingly stable. They work to reduce the camp's impact on the surrounding "host neighborhood," which is in stark contrast with other camps within the city.

 

Credit goes to all of the helpful camp residents; Footbridge's team of staff and volunteers; the city workers who arrive three times a week with a truck to remove loose trash items; and Ron Perrigo who arrives on Friday morning to dump 10 large trash bins.

Here's an entire Facebook photo album of the Felker Camp Garbage Project: 

https://www.facebook.com/media/set?vanity=warmingcenter&set=a.1412804345568749

Nancy Krusoe's Report: 

Tour of the Felker Encampment - October 3, 2020  

What do you do when a homeless encampment starts growing in your back yard? Most of us would do nothing very helpful, maybe because we don’t know what really is helpful in the long run. We understand the need for daily bread and clean clothes, not much else. But what if we had more awareness of what’s possible? And what if it’s hard work, yet doable—with enough motivation and will power to see it through?

 

Probably not many of us want the task of helping a homeless encampment stabilize and boost its chances of longevity in our back yard, breaking the cycle of regularly rotating locations called home. And maybe our reluctance is partially due to our own ignorance. We don’t actually know what’s possible or how to achieve it. Luckily, the Felker area encampment is a model to learn from. Something remarkable is happening there, and I had a tour of it today.

 

 Brent Adams has watched over and assisted the growth of this encampment with potential for the future, for some stability in the lives of people whose search for a place to make their home is usually futile, but that’s not necessarily the case if you learn why most camps get demolished. Turns out it’s garbage. Yes, buildup of trash. Nowhere to put it, no one to collect it, no desire to fight a losing battle. Then what follows is ugly, uncollected garbage, which seems to have a life force of its own and ends in eviction.

But the Felker encampment has challenged that cycle, and the sign that tells the story is posted on a tree for its residents to read and to feel good about and be motivated to keep on doing what they’re now doing—hauling out their own garbage every week and keeping their campsites clean and tidy. The sign reads:

This is the first time in more than 20 years the city has allowed camping in this area for more than 3 months. We’re now at more than 9 months down here, and it’s because you’ve been able to manage the trash situation. Historically, the city creates a “public nuisance” legal criteria to remove encampments. . . .  Let’s re-double our efforts so you all can remain in increasingly safe and clean circumstances.

While I don’t see Brent’s signature on the message, I know it’s his doing, his determination and intentional awareness, that have brought into being a camp that doesn’t generate nuisance complaints and hasn’t been shut down. Fingers crossed for longevity.

 

I knew Brent had initiated a trash-collecting focus in the camp several months ago, posting signs asking for cooperation and commitment from all the residents, but I didn’t know what I’d see because I do know how hard it is to keep your belongings tidy and am grateful daily for the walls that cover mine up.  

 

It was a remarkable walk through a camp with lots of tents, some in little communities arranged like a separate neighborhood, some with DIY wooden fences, one with a small movie screen, others with pieces of art, and many people hanging out near home on a warm Saturday afternoon, all friendly and mostly smiling. It was kind of exhilarating to walk along a dirt path, cleaned of debris, and it began to feel homey; trees and tents all around, raked dirt in front of many tents; some folks working on cleaning, all spending a quiet day at home. No quarrels, no yelling, very few sites that were not being kept clean (always a few nonparticipants in any collective), and I could feel it all around me—the manifestation of a basic human need for a place we call home, our heart’s desire to have our own place, a spot in a neighborhood where we’re safe, know our neighbors, come and go as we please, but with some assurance that we are not on the brink of being evicted. Steel beams and cement are not necessary elements to achieving our yearned-for sense of home place and the desire to make it reflect who we are. That’s what I saw—evidence of a personal touch, of people who’re feeling healthy enough to add some extras that make home inviting, without walls or floors but with a self who cares.

 

So maybe I’m romanticizing, I think. Maybe it was such a pretty day and it is such a lovely tree-lined location back-siding a cemetery that I was all dopey for thinking it felt homey. I mean there were the disagreeable spots where someone obviously was not in sync with the mission to keep it clean and free of garbage and trash buildup. Yet the feeling continued to grow as we walked along, me trying not to pry but with curiosity popping. I saw people building a future together in a location where they’re allowed to stay for a while, long enough to begin to do things they haven’t had time or energy for when moving all the time.

 

We were in a hurry. It was time for Footbridge Storage Center to open for the evening, and Brent works that, too, twice a day, 7 days a week. It’s been a lot of work, he says. He means him plus a few paid and volunteer others who’ve helped collect and haul and motivate into being this appealing campsite. There was negotiating for regular trash pickup, the ongoing 24/7 requirements of the work, the covid concerns, and the housed neighbors on Felker Street to be mindful of, to keep informed and pacified by consistently listening to their concerns and acting on them. That’s a behavior our city and county should model whenever they introduce an outside group of people into a neighborhood. We know what to do from the experience in other cities. However, we don’t seem motivated to do it very well or with the intentional awareness required.  

Knowing the work won’t end, there’s no finishing it: much effort was needed initially and much labor continues for its upkeep. Like the Storage program and every other part of the Warming Center nonprofit, what you create today, you’ll keep doing for as long as we have people living outside in Santa Cruz. That requires dedicated people willing to work incredibly hard, who want what’s best for the people they’re concerned about, and best is not, it turns out, defying city rules and expectations, but finding ways to live within them. Being allowed to live uncontested within a city comes with responsibilities, even when you’re living in a tent.  

 

So, Brent became aware of what was necessary and doable, and he did it. That’s his way, and he’s got something to be very proud of in the Felker encampment. The folks there seem aware of it, too. When you consider how little funding he’s had to accomplish all of this, it amazes. I know because I’ve been associated with his visions and the programs he’s set up since he was advocating fiercely 7 years ago for sanctuary camps in Santa Cruz—transitional encampments like Eugene and several other cities have had for years and are proud of.

Turns out we need more intentional awareness of what's possible. Of course, this is no transitional camp, yet much about it is working!

 

Nancy Krusoe

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