GOSHEN — The homeless camp along the city’s millrace was mostly empty Monday morning, the day that the city’s eviction notice went into effect.
After a 48-hour notice period, anyone remaining in the camp will be removed Wednesday and their property put into storage.
But it seemed Monday, there will be few, if any people left in the camp come Wednesday.
Looking over the remnants of the camp Monday morning, homeless advocate John Shafer said city officials and the Homeless Task Force and Homeless Coalition did a good job relocating the people in the camp.
“With their three different meetings with the residents it looks like most everybody has been placed in some type of housing or program. So that is good. The city certainly could have just kicked them out, as South Bend has done many times. They took a better approach at helping them and giving them a hand up. So, I am pleased and think they did the best they could.”
The meetings Shafer referenced were held at the Millrace Powerhouse next to the camp and featured local agencies that could provide rental vouchers, assistance to veterans and mental health services.
He believes that some of those in the camp who needed addictions programs have been placed in those and other campers were provided housing.
Shafer, who is with Michiana 5 for the Homeless, has led rallies in Goshen to advocate for the city’s homeless population and to seek the creation of a low-barrier shelter.
“We don’t want to see this happen again somewhere else in the city,” Shafer said. “Living in tents is far from ideal, for anyone, even for the community and the homeless themselves. But tent cities spring up and exist because we have a lack of organizations working together and we have, sometimes, few options where they can be sheltered.”
However, in Goshen, Shafer again said nonprofit organizations did come together and work toward the common goal of providing help to those living in the camp.
“I think this has come to a good resolution,” Shafer said.
ONE OF THE LAST
Along the tree line, Scott Shank’s bicycle was on its side in the damp grass. A trailer had been attached to the bike and Shank was loading up his possessions to move on.
Shank said he has been staying with friends recently, having left his “cabin” he constructed in the woods. That cabin kept him warm through the winter, he said, but recently he has been staying with friends while he has allowed another homeless man to occupy the cabin.
Monday, Shank returned to gather his possessions.
The cabin is made from found items and is insulated with discarded sleeping bags he scrounged from abandoned campsites. He proudly recounts how he constructed a wood stove from an old milk can and cobbled together a stove pipe from pipes he found in the woods. He even installed a damper.
Shank’s only purchased item for the makeshift structure is the large brown tarp that keeps the wind and water at bay.
The cabin’s flooring consists of skids to keep his possessions high and dry.
“I’ve been doing this for a while,” Shank said of living in temporary tent shelters.
While Shank is a native of Goshen, “I have been traveling for some time,” he said.
Now 51, Shank said he has been living in Shanklin Park off and on since he was 16 years old.
He said his extended stretch of homelessness began when his tools were stolen while working in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. After the theft, he asked a policeman for directions to Florence, South Carolina, and the police officer pointed the way, failing to tell him Florence was close to 70 miles away in a straight line.
“I started walking and people started giving me funny looks,” he said with a slight smile. “Eighty-six miles. It was 86 miles. But that was OK. I got real close to God. It took me five days.”
Once he walked into Florence he found shelter at a Salvation Army center.
After that, he traveled the East Coast working day labor and staying in a lot of homeless camps. And often those camps ended up being closed down by local authorities.
“I started to realize I liked the life better,” Shank said of his time on the road compared to his experiences in Goshen. “I am more at peace, you know. I quit drinking. It was all better all around. The more money I made with the trailer factories, the more money I spent, the more drugs I did and the more booze I drank. And it was just bad, real bad.”
He also developed carpal tunnel syndrome.
While on the road and in Goshen, Shank used to earn his money scavenging for recyclable items to turn into cash. But he said junking doesn’t pay well these days. So, now he finds discarded electronic items, tinkers with them to get them working and sells them.
He also recounted how, wherever he has set up camp, local authorities eventually drove away the homeless people.
“It is always like that,” he said. “I have been in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, here, all up and down the East Coast working in daily work, and it is always the same. The more people, the quicker you get thrown out.”
He said some of the homeless people he sees drink “and whatever.
“That is not why I do it for,” Shank said. “I do it because it is the way I live. I believe that is what makes me happy.”
“With these who have been placed and those who have gone to rehab, the important work is what lies ahead,” Shafer said. “When they return back to the area, or when maybe a month down the road, will there be follow up for them? Will there be continual case management and counseling?
“Creating that stability takes time, and we want to see that they receive that and hopefully they do, and the success rate will be at a much higher rate.”
Roger Schneider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 309. Follow Roger on Facebook and also on Twitter @rschneider_TGN