Feb. 24, Councilman Silvas and Councilman Sorg came to visit Camp Hope this Friday. The councilmen spent several hours discussing the success of the camp with camp residents and volunteers, recognizing the many positive effects the camp has had on the homeless and the immediate community.
We discussed many key points about the continuing positive growth of the camp over the last two and half months. James Von Behren, resident volunteer camp manager, spoke with Councilman Sorg about the Camp Hope Health Initiative, which he spear-headed along with cooperation of St. Luke’s Health Care Clinic, Las Cruces First Assembly Church and Both the Pioneer and Citizens Banks. The program, set to launch next month, will assist the homeless with any expenses they cannot meet on their own including: co-pays for medications, transportation to doctor appointments, providing medical supplies and equipment (such as wheelchairs or walkers). James has also helped arrange two electric wheelchairs for other disabled homeless, and will continue to work over the next month to set up a work and day labor program to help get more folks active and back into a better economic place. Councilman Sorg seemed impressed at the motivation and drive James and other residents are showing in garnering the support of the greater Las Cruces community.
Later Councilman Silvas, got a chance to hear Bob and me (Matt) speak about how vital the feeling of community is at the camp, especially the value of the safety of being here together and taking care of each other. Bob survived being attacked last summer at his camp. At his site by himself, several young thugs who were trying to steal his road bike, accosted him. And I survived having my campsite set on fire in the middle of the night by a young perpetrator who had been known throughout the homeless community, to stalk others’ campsites at night. Bob said he left Las Cruces, which he has called home on and off for the last 10 years, at the end of the summer partly because of this violence. But he said he also returned because he had heard that I, one of his freinds, was helping to manage the “tent city” behind the Community of Hope. I agreed that I have seen violence and crime dramatically decline since the start of this project. With so many maintaining an attitude of mutual respect and dignity and recognizing the privilege of having this space to work, things are improving on the entire MVCH campus which houses 7 agencies that serve indigent families and/or homeless people.
Sue Campbell related to the councilmen how the camp has helped her in getting homeless who stay here through the SOAR program to receive SSI or disability benefits. She said having them here next to the office allows her to keep in closer contact with them and get them to much needed and often mandatory doctors appointments that most often her clients tend to miss, as they are prone to not remembering appointments, or are off somewhere where she can’t reach them. Getting them through the SOAR program is just the first step into getting disabled homeless housing and the camp has increased those odds for Sue and her clients.
Jesus and the “other” James, spoke to the councilmen about how the social interaction and daily life of the camp has made a positive impact on the homeless who live here, giving them a sense of purpose and a place to be proud of calling a transitional home. That learning to cooperate with each other and sit down and work out challenges has given them a renewed feeling of self-worth that carries with them outside the camp into Las Cruces as a whole. They also spoke about the residents that have been able to find part and full time work while here, as well as housing since their stay at Camp Hope.
All In all, the overwhelming sense of success the camp has had over the last two and a half months has met with nothing but amazing support from many different groups in Las Cruces and continues to grow. What the homeless have started here is just the beginning of something that is very special and is meeting the needs of enough people to really make a difference for all of the city of Las Cruces.
On the 12th of March the Camp Leaders and board members of several of the MVCH campus agencies will meet with City Council and city management to discuss a possible extension for Camp Hope as a project of Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, until the city can honor their commitment to create a permanent night shelter on or near the MVCH campus. We urge all supporters of Camp Hope in the greater Las Cruces community to attend the meeting on March 12th, and get involved with Camp Hope any way you can.
Thanks to City Council for their awesome support and commitment to hear and act for the homeless in Las Cruces!