Acting on citizen complaints, officials from the city’s Solid Waste Department and rangers from the Parks Department cleared out a transient camp that had relocated from the 500 block of Lawndale last week to the area just north of the stone wall near the Indian Mound in Kessler Park.
Rangers responded to the area on Thursday, Oct. 15 and gave the camp’s three residents a two hour notice to pack up and move. Clean up crews from the Parks Department were standing by around 1 p.m. on Thursday to pick up whatever remained at the camp and take it to the landfill.
For whatever reason, wires were crossed and the pick up was never taken care of, and the pile remained at roughly 6 p.m. Thursday evening, according to Park Rangers. Fast forward to Friday morning when Illegal Dumping Investigator Travis Silvers was notified of the camp and responded to the area along with Park Rangers.
“We’ve given them a two hour notice,” said Silvers, who indicated city trash trucks were en route.
Prior to the arrival of the trucks, one of the camp’s occupants, a Hispanic female from Goodland, Kan., packed her belongings on her baby buggy and headed south on Belmont. She was later spotted with the large transient group that occupies the area near St. John and Belmont.
The camp’s other two occupants, a Hispanic male and a Black male named Keith, indicated they would seek shelter and resources near the tent city on the grounds of City Hall.
Upon arrival of the trash trucks, the remaining belongings were loaded up and taken away. Park Rangers did an area canvas in the wooded area to the east of Indian Mound attempting to locate other camps in the area.
Keith indicated that prior to the pandemic he had a decent job in the service industry with a local BBQ restaurant.
“The Covid hit and I got let go,” he said.
Keith indicated he had been on and off the streets for a little over two years. When asked why he didn’t want to go to a shelter, he broke down in tears, saying that he had been robbed and was stabbed the last time he was in a formal shelter.
“I ain’t going back there,” Keith said. “It’s safer out here, people in this neighborhood are good to us. They [are] good to us, they just don’t want us on their block, and I get that.”
Keith went on to say he’d be willing to enter a program to get off the streets, but due to the pandemic and not having a cell phone, it was twice as difficult to get plugged in to resources.
“Nobody is taking people in person now,” Keith said.
Steve Hunt, a Resource Coordinator with Healing House in Northeast learned of the action at the camp and arrived on the scene to help Keith find much needed resources. He backed up Keith’s statements on the huge disconnect now given COVID-19 restrictions on in-person meetings and programs, as well as homeless intake provisions.
“This has really put a cramp in our in-person outreach activities as well as those of other homeless advocacy programs city-wide,” Hunt said. “It really makes it difficult for those like Keith who want to get off the street to get into an immediate housing program and start putting his life back together.”
Hunt spoke with Keith, giving him a hard copy packet of local resources he could contact that would help him get off the street.
“I’m going to try and get him some survival gear and some food to help him out,” Hunt said.
Keith indicated he would be returning to an established camp in the area for safety reasons. Hunt said he would be bringing some additional supplies and try his best to help.
“It’s difficult and I feel bad,” Hunt said. “We tell people we’ll do our best, but part of it is on them, too.”
This is an ongoing story and we’ll offer updates as they become available. The Northeast News has been covering the unhoused population in the area for years. Find other recent coverage at northeastnews.net.