At least 70 homeless citizens of Washtenaw County could soon be driven from their residencies in a state-driven mandate, potentially evicting them from their present encampment.
Residents at the camp, which has for the past two years provided food and shelter for occupants struggling with poverty and homelessness, recently received word that they would soon be served an eviction notice by the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of Transportation, which owns the land on Wagner road between Jackson and Elizabeth.
Director, Caleb Poirer, 35, recently led a rally displaying local support for CTN. He referred to the demonstration as an “SOS,” or show of support. He and his residents are also considering a trip to Lansing to lobby state legislatures.
According to Poirer, the information was leaked to the camp’s Executive Committee by one of their many benefactors. The source asked to remain anonymous.
“It was overheard in a phone conversation. They said it could happen next week,” said Scott Ellinger, a 40-year-old resident at CTN for the past month and a member of the executive committee. “Now we’re trying to get our efforts going before it does. We’re trying to get ahead so we can save the camp.”
But MDOT denied allegations that it would soon evict.
“I don’t know where the rumor came from,” said Jeff Cranson, communications director at MDOT. “Our goal is to find alternatives. They definitely can’t stay, but there is no plan in place to just evict them.”
According to Cranson, when CTN first opened in 2010, MDOT was told it was to be a temporary alternative and that CTN officials would soon find other housing alternatives.
In February of 2011, MDOT was informed that residents now viewed the encampment as a permanent haven and that no alternatives would be pursued.
About a month later, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority was called in to assist MDOT in finding alternatives for the residents. Cranson said that the area is needed as a buffer zone for MDOT projects.
“We need to move on,” Cranson said. “This (CTN) is not permanent.”
In hopes of pre-empting possible government action, organizers began meeting to plan efforts for getting their message out to the public and garnering more support.
“It’s a tough time,” Poirer said. “Right now we’re trying to improve the self-management of the community to deal with the anxieties of eviction. We don’t have the information officially and we aren’t responding to it, officially.”
At the SOS, supporters of the camp came out in droves. Lining Wagner Road between the intersections of Jackson and Elizabeth, about 80 supporters from the local community, including the 19 churches backing CTN, flew signs emblazoned with slogans and statements representing the ideology and goals of the camp.
“We are self-reliant,” read one sign. “We provide homes,” read another.
Among the supporters at the rally was former resident of CTN and recent Washtenaw Community College graduate, Alonzo Young. The 47-year-old Ann Arbor resident acquired an associate degree in humanities and a certificate in vocal performance this spring. Young expressed gratitude to the camp for assisting in his academic success.
Four months ago, Young moved out of CTN and into his aunt’s Ann Arbor apartment.
“This place has opened doors in my life,” Young said. “They helped me with tutoring and I had good inspiration here. It’s like a family to me. I will help this camp out all I can.”
Residents have been congregating daily at CTN to discuss ways of bringing the camp’s plight into the local community. Poirer encourages all who support CTN to attend these meetings held at the camp every morning at 10 a.m.
Several residents plan to lobby as well at future meetings held at Scio Township Hall in hopes of swaying government officials through the discourse to allow the camp to remain.
“We’re now trying to pitch our vision,” Ellinger said.