Sunday, November 16, 2014

Bristol Twp. homeless camps residents warned: Leave or face arrest

Posted: Monday, November 10, 2014

Twenty-five homeless people received eviction notices Monday.
Instead of 30 days notice, they got three or four.
That came along with a promise of arrest if they aren’t out by the end of the week, prompting local advocates for the homeless to call an emergency meeting to figure out where they can relocate the people.
“They’re wiping us out,” said one 50-year-old man, who didn’t want his name used. He has been homeless about a year and lives in a camp with 10 other people in Bristol woods near a shopping center off Route 413.
Location of homeless camps targeted for closure
Relocating the homeless is becoming harder as more property owners crack down on homeless encampments that have dotted wooded areas of Bristol Township for decades.
The oldest and largest tent city in Bucks County — in woods near Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol — was torn down in May 2012 after a property owner announced plans to redevelop the land. Sixteen people who lived in there had to find other places to lay their heads.
“They are starting to tighten up more,” said Bristol businessman Joe Nocito, who founded the Warming Hearts Project, which works with the local homeless population. “This happens every year around the same time.”
Nocito, along with other local advocates for the homeless, brainstormed Monday night on how to make a smooth transition for some of the residents of five camps in Bristol and Bristol Township who have until Thursday or Friday to move. Their plan started with figuring out where to place the four homeless people who also attended the meeting.
“I’m willing to move anywhere, I just need to get the hell out,” said a homeless man. “They gave us no choice.”
But where to go? The county’s emergency homeless shelter — generally the first step toward transitional housing programs — is full with a waiting list and priority placement for families with children.
Also, not all homeless people want to enter a structured program where they have to follow rules, advocates say.
The suggestion of absorbing the evicted into another existing homeless camps didn’t get far. More people means there is more foot traffic and a greater chance of discovery, which puts others at risk of eviction, advocates said.
“With more and more homeless, it’s harder to stay under the radar,” said Christine Jandovitz, of Advocates for the Homeless and Those in Need.
Some of the homeless expressed concern that moving means they’ll no longer be near one of the handful of bus stops that Advocates for the Homeless and Those in Need make for evening meals and Code Blue winter emergency shelter pickups. But Jandovitz assured them that the organization will adjust stops to accommodate them.
After volunteers narrowed down potential new camp locations, they had to figure out when — and more importantly how — to disassemble the tents and other structures and move them without raising the attention of authorities.
While Warming Heart Project volunteers promised to help with the packing and moving process, Nocito made it clear that residents need to start developing long-term housing plans, something his group can help with. Things like resume building, job searches and connecting them with social services to lift them out of their homeless plight.
“I do not want to be in the same situation a week from now moving. I do not want to have this same conversation next week,” Nocito said. “I am making it perfectly clear, we are not enabling you to be comfortable where you at. We don’t want this to be your new retirement home.”

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