Exactly one year ago, on Sept. 1, 2009, the homeless community that had been camping behind Arborland mall was evicted from that location by Ann Arbor police officers. So the residents of Camp Take Notice, a self-governed community of homeless people, spent that first night of September just north of the park-and-ride lot at Ann Arbor-Saline Road and I-94.
Signs on the trail to Camp Take Notice. (Photos by the writer)
Last year, The Chronicle reported the commentary on those events from Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County: “It’s simple physics,” she said. “People have to be some place, and if people don’t have a place to be, they will find a place to be.”
The state police paid a visit, taking names but making no arrests. Later one of the campers, Caleb Poirier, would be arrested on charges of trespassing on the Michigan Dept. of Transportation property. Poirier was represented by David Blanchard of the law firm Nacht & Associates, P.C. The ACLU filed an amicus brief in support of Poirier, and the charges against the camper were eventually dropped. The camp’s current location is off Wagner Road near I-94.
In the course of the past year, members of the community – some homeless campers, some not – who organized in support of the tent encampment under the name Michigan Itinerant Shelter System Interdependent Out of Necessity (MISSION) have achieved more than simply a successful legal defense of one of their members. They were a key force in prompting the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County to consider allocating emergency shelter funds for the winter of 2009-10.
And their recent achievement of official nonprofit status as a 501(c)(3) organization means that the goal of finding land sponsors to host the camp legally appears a bit more realistic. A student with the University of Michigan Law School who’s working with MISSION has sketched out a model for how liabilities could be handled by defining appropriate relationships among the land sponsor, MISSION and the homeless camp. The group heard a presentation on legal issues last Friday morning at the Washtenaw County Annex on Fourth Avenue.
But it’s all still a matter of physical laws. UM physics doctoral student Brian Nord, who’s president of MISSION’s board, compares Camp Take Notice to a gas and MISSION to a relief valve: “As long as the environment within camp is positive and community-driven, the methods of CTN can be fluid and operate as a gas. However, the established societal regulations and more so the prejudices act as a maximal container of this fluid. MISSION, the valve, has to evolve itself to consistently advocate for the rights of the individual, while appearing as part of the establishment to the camp.”
As The Chronicle noted a year ago, “This is a story that does not yet have an end, nor will it likely ever have one.” But it is now time for an update. [Full Story]