Monday, November 24, 2014

Advocates: More homeless told to leave Bristol Twp. camps

Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2014
Cheryl and her husband, John, would prefer to sleep in a room, not a camping tent. But they’d prefer the tent to nothing at all.
“It’s cold, it’s miserable out here,” the 44-year-old Bucks County native said. “It’s not like we want to do this, but to survive we have to do this.”
This is living in a tent along with 2 dozen other homeless people in muddy woods behind a carpet business off Route 13 in Bristol Township, one of the unknown number of homeless camps tucked in the woods of Lower Bucks County.
The couple has lived there since May. Before that it was the county’s homeless shelter. Before that they lived in their car. Before that it was Cheryl’s sister’s house. And before that it was John’s father’s home in Florida. They haven’t lived in their own place since 2012, after John, 51, lost his job, the couple said.
Now their latest home is in danger of foreclosure by Bristol Township officials. According to a local homeless advocate, they’ve been told the camp must disband by the end of the month. Where they’ll go next is unclear.
Residents of another smaller homeless camp along Maple Beach were also recently warned to find another place to pitch their tents immediately. All but two of those seven residents had relocated to parts unknown as of Thursday, according to Bristol businessman Joe Nocito, founder of the Warming Hearts Project. The Bristol nonprofit organization helps the homeless by collecting clothes to keep them warm, hygiene products and more.
Already this month, Bristol Township and Bucks County officials issued eviction notices to about 25 homeless people living in about five camps in the Lower Bucks area. The evictions have strained the handful of local advocates for the homeless who help those living outdoors.
The latest eviction notices were issued earlier this week by Bristol Township Zoning Officer Glenn Kucher, Nocito said. Kucher referred questions to township Manager Bill McCauley, who referred questions to Bristol Township Fire Marshal Kevin Dippolito, who then referred them to Bristol Township Police Lt. Guy Sava.
But Sava said on Thursday that he wasn’t aware of any decision to remove the so-called Michael’s Camp behind the carpet store, which has existed on and off for years.
Nocito claims he has spoken to the property owner — who also owns the carpet business — and was told he has no problem with the homeless staying there. The newspaper was unsuccessful in attempts to reach the property owner Thursday.
Sava did acknowledge that neighbors have complained about rowdy behavior among some of the camp residents.
“The neighbors are a little fed up,” he said.
Homeless campers say that no one has come back to complain to them.
The homeless campers claim its outside troublemakers who are causing problems and bringing unwanted attention to their living situation.
“Why doesn’t the township come back here and see for themselves?” said Cheryl’s husband, John.
They maintain they’re ordinary people experiencing bad luck, bad health and bad past decisions.
Jessica, 37, one of the newest residents, has lived in the homeless camp for about a month. Like other residents there, she learned about the camp through other homeless people. She wants to find a room to rent with her boyfriend, who has a job and lives at the camp.
At the moment, her other big worry is the thyroid cancer for which she was diagnosed with last year has returned. She recently felt a lump in her shoulder blade, but can’t see a doctor until next month. She had to quit her job and get public assistance after she got sick, she said. She then lost her apartment.
“Especially with health problems, struggling with diabetes, cancer and being out of work,” she said. “It’s hard not having a job, not being able to pay bills.”
The camp consists of a dozen tents, some fortified with heavy tarp banners promoting banks or local TV stations. Two cats — Midnight and Pudge — keep residents company. There are two barbecues, a fire pit and a communal outdoor patio set. A camping shower is set up above a lawn chair.
A 50-year-old former Quakertown resident, who didn’t want to give her name, has lived at the camp behind the carpet store since July after her time ran out at the county’s emergency homeless shelter. Her adult son is still at the shelter, but his time runs out soon and he’ll be joining her outside, she said.
She and her son are both Type 1 diabetics, she said, adding she has run out of glucose test strips and her insulin is running low, too. She also is nursing a broken elbow that left her arm in a sling.
Both she and Jessica said that they are on the housing waiting list through the Bucks County Opportunity Council, but they’re told the wait is five to eight weeks.
Cheryl, too, has her health problems. Last year while living in Florida she underwent surgery to remove part of her intestines and reproductive organs and was left with a colostomy bag and $200,000 in medical bills, she said. She changes her colostomy bag once a month at her sister’s house, but she has also changed it in her tent, though it’s not sanitary, she acknowledges.
Her husband says he is looking for work but can’t find anything despite experience in construction and warehouse work, including operating a forklift and parts assembly.
“We’re not dirty. We’re not filthy. We’re not all drug addicts. We’re not all alcoholics,” Cheryl said. “We are actually just people trying to survive and live and get through our problems, our health issues, bad luck, things that are hard to survive.”

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