Donation Drive. Working for the new Maurices of Las Cruces & an awesome summation I found on the internet!

Everyone is excited about the possibilities for tomorrows donation drive. But 5 of our camp residents won’t be there. That’s because they will be doing some temp labor for the new Maurice’s Store that is opening at the mall. Yes, Maurices has agreed to hire 5 male camp members  Saturday and another  5 female camp members Monday, to help unload trucks and fit out their newest retail outlet here in Las Cruces. These are great people; do support them and stop by their store when it’s opened!

Oh and you may be wondering how our camp members are going to get to the mall to work. Let me take this opportunity to tell you about Pastor George and his congregation at the Las Cruces First Assembly Chuch and how they are supporting out efforts. First off tomorrow at 7:00 am they will bring a van to shuttle workers to the mall, at 7:30 they will bring the van back to shuttle camp members to the church for a homeless job fair. And to top it off at 8:00 am they will  be back  at Camp Hope to serve breakfast to all, as they have every other Saturday since Christmas of last year. Wow!

And finaly,  here’s something I was really pleased and impressed to find as I was surfing google for “homeless tent city.”  This is an awesome summation to date of what’s happening here at Camp Hope, written by the director of MVCH. Read on, I think you will like it too.

From: Nicole Martinez <nicolee12000@yahoo.com>
Date: March 15, 2012 9:39:41 AM MDT
Subject: Camp Hope
Reply-To: Nicole Martinez <nicolee12000@yahoo.com>

Greetings from the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope (MVCH):

I am writing to inform you about our temporary (for now) emergency shelter, Camp Hope.
In November 2011, in preparation for cold weather, and as a response to the City cracking down on homeless people sleeping illegally on the MVCH campus, MVCH started a tent city emergency shelter referred to as: Camp Hope.  Homeless individuals began putting up tents in a designated area just behind the MVCH main building.  An RV was established as the Camp Hope Office where residents are required to register.  In accordance with the Fire Marshals and the Police Department, we compiled policies and procedures on how to run the camp safely and effectively. We purchased fire extinguishers, security lights, and have paid security that comes twice a night to check the campus to make sure no one is sleeping here illegally. We ordered more port-a-potties and bought gravel and pallets for the homeless to put their tents on.  The homeless armed themselves with wheelbarrows and shovels and began spreading the gravel around, erecting a temporary fence around their parameters, and established signs to keep cars out. They assigned people to specific committees such as Camp Council, Grounds Crew, Safety, and Recreation.

When we first began Camp Hope, we were unsure how it would work. Each Wednesday, since just before Camp Hope’s inception, we meet with a facilitator at MVCH who gets the homeless people to talk about the Camp- what’s working and what’s not.  Through these dialogues, homeless people have learned to communicate with each other and to see results happen through their words. They formed their own type of government and have their own council meetings on Thursdays.  These are people that previously had the outlook: Every man for himself/herself. Now at Camp Hope, they work together to cook meals, keep watch at night for security, help put up a tent for someone that has been knocked down by the wind, etc.  Each of them now has respect for the place where they live and they feel like they contributed to the betterment of their situation and the camp in general. The generated social capital through this experience has been amazing. I have personally worked with several of these homeless people for years who never had the opportunity to be part of a community like this. Camp Hope has provided a place for homeless people to feel safe as they transition from their independent, isolated lifestyle to group living and participation, which has in turn helped them get ready to re-integrate back into society.

On the weekends when MVCH is closed, there are several community members that come and cook-out with the Camp Hope residents.  They have come to be a huge support to the community of homeless people.  So many others have contributed and donated to this cause by sending tents, tarps, blankets, money, and other supplies that have helped our agency take this on.

Camp Hope has had several direct and indirect outcomes.  For example: of the 87 people that have been at Camp Hope (some are still there since the beginning), 17 individuals have obtained work, 19 have obtained housing, 3 are on housing waiting lists, and 5 have applied for their disability benefits through our case worker. Previously, people would sign up for benefits or housing and when we received a determination or an opening, we would have a difficult time finding the client because they were camping at the river or under a bridge- now, when they stay at Camp Hope, they come in to MVCH and we are able to track their progress every step of the way.

Last year we experienced a lot of violence on the MVCH campus and around town where homeless people were sleeping. There were several young adults going through the town targeting the homeless and beating them up, burning their tents, etc. Since Camp Hope has been here, there has been 0 violence and 0 vandalism. Women have stated how much safer they feel (we have 6 women currently staying at Camp Hope). We also have several senior citizens staying at Camp Hope. They are on disability or retirement and are trying to save up their checks to afford rent which would take up 2/3 of their check/month.

Some of the leaders of the camp were able to get wheelchairs donated to some of the disabled participants and they have started a “Camp Hope Health Initiative” where they help uninsured homeless people obtain medication through another nonprofit agency. The motivation through this camp has been nothing short of inspiring.

Camp Hope is supposed to come down on March 31.  When it comes down, the homeless population will be forced back onto the streets of Las Cruces where they will go back to defending themselves, falling through the social services cracks,  sleeping in illegal places, and getting put in jail for no trespassing.  The City of Las Cruces has benefitted from having Camp Hope as it has provided a place for homeless people to stay while they transition out of homelessness and can access the resources they need. They have learned respect for their area, peers, and most importantly, for themselves. Camp Hope has taken care of its seniors, mentally ill, and female populations, which are some of the most vulnerable populations.  MVCH has taken on this new program with open arms, realizing it has been a risk and a new experience.  We are willing to continue running this camp.

One of the major issues facing Camp Hope today is that it is not legally zoned-camping is not zoned on the MVCH property.  We are going to approach City Hall to see if we can fix this.  Originally, we wanted to get an emergency shelter opened, but the City of Las Cruces cannot afford to do that at this time (and maybe not until next winter), so we are looking to continue the camp for now and see about getting the area re-zoned.   So far, we have had mixed support from the City of Las Cruces, but they cannot continue to break their ordinances.

Each of the City Council Members, including the Mayor, came to see the camp last week.  They have seen the progress of the camp and realize how it has helped the City of Las Cruces. This Monday I will approach the CLC at the City Council Meeting to see what sort of resolution we can come up with to continue the camp.  We are asking for your support.  Ultimately, they could shut the whole thing down on March 31st.   I am including the emails for the City Manager and the Councillors in case you wish to email them your support of Camp Hope and to ask them to find a humane way to keep the camp. The homeless thank you in advance and welcome you to visit the camp to see for yourselves what a positive life-changing experience this has been for so many.

Please feel free to email me with any questions.   Also, please feel free to pass this email on to anyone you know that might support this.

City Manager, Robert Garza:  rgarza@las-cruces.org
Mayor Miyagishima:  mayor@las-cruces.org
Miguel Silva:  miguel.silva@las-cruces.org
Nathan Small:  nathan.p.small@gmail.com
Olga Pedroza: Olga Pedroza <olga.pedroza@yahoo.com>
Gil Sorg:  gsorg@las-cruces.org
Greg Smith: gsmith@las-cruces.org
Sharon Thomas: sthomas@las-cruces.org

Sincerely,
Nicole Martinez
Interim Executive Director
Mesilla Valley Community of Hope
999 W. Amador
Las Cruces, NM  88005
ph: (575)523-2219
fax: (575)523-8684

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