We were a provisional winter shelter space in the form of camping on the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope campus since November 2011, which has been self-governed with full cooperation from many different agencies that are part of Hope campus as well as many volunteers from the Las Cruces community itself. We are now becoming an alternative transitional living program of MVCH that has received the full support of City Council and management since March 2012, who’s supporters are stepping forward more and more each day to offer up to 50 residents their assistance. Our next step is to improve the living conditions in our camp and work with the City who approved the re-zoning for the camp to stay indefinitely this past Feb. 19th, and prepare for our third year here to make sure the folks out here are safe and comfortable. We survive severe wind and dust storms in spring, some wind and rain in summer, and are dedicated to making sure our disabled, women, veterans, and all our homeless are protected from the and have an adequate place to transition while they are here, even through the winter.
Other “tent cities”, like Dignity Village in Portland Oregon, have inspired us in making our camp a safe compassionate and dignified place to make life changes and grow freely. We hope the example the city of Las Cruces has laid down for our country gives us a chance to help and network with other cities and organizations that are facing the same challenges in addressing homelessness with respect and giving people a chance to invest in a better future together. The non-profit groups and churches, the colleges and universities, the young and the elder grassroots volunteers supporting humanitarianism, as we have seen here, can create great change in our communities by making a space for discussing how to meet our basic common needs, to help more people as individuals to stop falling through the cracks in our systems. We are proud to be a part of such an exciting and innovative approach to, maybe not ending homelessness, but making sure that homelessness is something that we can all manage together, each person having the space and time to offer what they can. And now that we have gained national and international recognition for our efforts, even being named a “best practice” example at UN Human Rights Council in Geneva recently, we have a unique opportunity to educate other cities in our country about the work we are doing.
Our “camp” has provided the homeless with the opportunity to be right next to all the Direct Services the agencies on the MVCH campus provide. Including : taking showers, doing laundry, seeking case management to find housing, getting healthcare referrals and mental health services, finding employment, and even starting the process of receiving disability benefits. Without having a safe place to sleep and keep their belongings, and the sense of community and belonging that we cultivate here, many homeless would be at a loss trying to fend for themselves, spread out in the Las Cruces community, on the streets, by themselves. Since the “camp” has been operating in November 2011 we have seen dozens of homeless find jobs, dozens get housing, another dozen or so get benefits for their disabilities, and an overall increase in optimism in the general population of homeless people here on the MVCH campus, that we all can do more together rather than struggle trying to survive alone.
Finding long-term solutions to permanently house people is not just about ending homelessness, for the reasons folks end up out here are not just about statistical analysis or about the homeless being reticent about working for a living. We at “Camp Hope” feel that this program speaks to resilience of communities like Las Cruces being able to approach the homeless with mutual respect and create a way to address individual’s needs with tolerance and dignity. There are many opinions about the validity of “tent cities”, some doubting the integrity of allowing homeless to congregate this way, seeing this as a failure to invest in a real future for homeless people, others realizing that this alternative is a simple and logical solution to temporarily give people a safe place to transition and find what services are available to them. We believe that this program is giving us all an opportunity to explore new partnerships in Las Cruces, and beyond, and that in the long run we will create new opportunities for non-profit agencies and the private sector to cooperate together to help as many folks as we can, in new and exciting ways.