Laws of Physics: Homeless Camp Moves

Goal: A nonprofit to rotate camp through church properties
Apple tree near the park and ride lot at I-94 and Ann Arbor-Saline

An apple tree near the park-and-ride lot at I-94 and Ann Arbor-Saline Road. (Photo by the writer.)

Every school child learns that Newton “discovered” gravity when an apple fell out of a tree and bonked him on the head.

Near the park-and-ride lot at I-94 and Ann Arbor-Saline Road stands an apple tree. Most, but not all, of the tree’s fruit this season has already succumbed to Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.

About 50 yards northwest of that apple tree is the new – and likely very temporary – location of “Camp Take Notice” – a tent camp where maybe a dozen homeless people spent the first night in September. Standing under the apple tree Tuesday afternoon, The Chronicle spoke by phone to Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County.

Schulmeister characterized the “bottom line” for the homeless: “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.”

If it’s a matter of physics, then it’s perhaps perfectly natural that the guy who drove the U-Haul truck to move the camp from its previous location – behind Toys R Us at Arborland – is a University of Michigan doctoral student in physics, Brian Nord.

This is a story that does not yet have an end, nor will it likely ever have one. But we can write down the part we know so far, which began with a Chronicle visit to the camp behind Arborland earlier this summer, and goes through a visit from a Michigan State Trooper to the new camp location early Tuesday evening.

sign at homeless camp

At the entrance to "Camp Take Notice" in July 2009 (Photo by the writer.)

Background: What’s the Goal of the Camp?

Moving “Camp Take Notice” from behind the Toys R Us at Arborland was always a part of the plan for residents of the tent community, but not on Tuesday’s more-or-less involuntary schedule. The tent community is a self-governed group of campers who say they are well on their way to achieving 501(c)3 nonprofit status for their organization: MISSION (Michigan Itinerant Shelter System Interdependent Out of Necessity).

Tuesday afternoon, Robin Rich, board member of MISSION, told The Chronicle that the final paperwork for the nonprofit was expected to be approved in the next week or two.

The plan had been to move the tent community off the private property behind Arborland – where the property owner had given them no explicit permission to camp – to church properties where congregations grant them permission to camp for a specified time period. The idea is to secure arrangements with multiple churches, and to rotate the camp location after a period of months.

The effort to secure those commitments from area churches has begun. Part of that effort consists of a media packet that’s been distributed to churches. And Tuesday morning, camp resident Jesse A. told The Chronicle that he’d attended a couple of the in-person contacts made by the campers with area pastors. These efforts have not yet succeeded.

caleb with officer

Caleb Poirier talks with an Ann Arbor police officer outside the campsite behind Arborland on Tuesday morning. (Photo by the writer.)

The idea of temporary homeless shelters is not novel. It’s been used in Seattle, for example, where camper Caleb Poirier lived for a while. So he’s modeling the effort here in Ann Arbor on what he experienced in Washington.

The premise behind the approach is that not every homeless person fits the model assumed by bricks-and-mortar institutions such as the Delonis Center.

Camp Council: “It’s 10 weeks until cold!”

Back in July, during Art Fairs week, The Chronicle attended one of the weekly camp council meetings held Thursdays at 7 p.m. at the campsite. They’re open to the public, just like the weekly board meetings held Mondays at 7 p.m. at the Malletts Creek branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.

When The Chronicle visited, there were 17 tents at the site. With campers sitting in a rough circle in office chairs – which were not intended to roll across the fresh straw that had been spread throughout the site – Poirier called the meeting to order: “Anybody want to chair the meeting?” Hunter R. volunteered to chair. “Who’d like to keep time?” Nord, the physicist, said he’d be the time keeper. “Minutes?” None of the dozen campers expressed a willingness to do that task. After a pause, Nord offered that he’d keep minutes as best he could in addition to keeping track of time.

tents at homeless camp

"Camp Take Notice" in July 2009. (Photo by the writer.)

Hunter then led off chairing the meeting. The first order of business was to set the agenda. It boiled down to four basic points:

  1. morale check
  2. supply check
  3. progress on flyer and media packet
  4. strategize on reaching out to churches

It was the last two points that generated the most discussion. George Lucero – who became interested in the camp when an acquaintance of his became homeless and started staying there – gave an update on his work on the media packet and the cover letter to the churches. It was agreed that each letter should be customized based on the congregation. The consensus was that it was important for campers themselves to be a part of the delegations that made contact with the churches.

There was not a complete consensus on an appropriate sense of urgency. Hunter wanted to see contacts being made as soon as the following week. “It’s 10 weeks until cold!” he warned. Others felt that congregations needed some time to decompress after Art Fairs. Plus, many people were out of town, and congregations were unlikely to make a firm decision.

Johnny A. suggested that the passive versus a more aggressive approach to contacting churches reminded him of the story of two bulls on the hill. Asked by Poirier what that story was, Johnny declined: “There’s women around, I can’t tell it.”

Homeless Camp Ann Arbor Arborlan

Brian Nord shakes hands with AAPD officers Tuesday morning at the campsite behind Arborland. (Photo by the writer.)

What Led to the Camp’s Move

Overnight low temperatures in the Ann Arbor area over the last few days have dipped into the 30s. So the arrival of the cold, which Hunter had warned of, came a few weeks earlier than expected.

But the request from authorities to leave the property had not been expected.

Why wouldn’t they have eventually expected to be forced off the land?

The parcel, which is zoned residential, measures a little less than 50 acres and is owned by Peters Building Co. in Saline. The president of Peters Building is Jim Haeussler.

The campers contend that they’d communicated with Haeussler, and they maintain that while he had not given them permission to live there, he’d indicated he wasn’t planning to initiate legal remedies to force them off the land, either.

Ann Arbor Police Department officers at the site Tuesday morning indicated to campers that they’d spoken with the property owner that morning, and said that he had not given the campers permission to stay there.

AAPD officers also expressed concern about the fire hazard from all the straw that was spread through the campsite, plus the piles of cleared brush. They’d seen evidence of open burning at the site when they’d inspected it the previous evening. They’d been called to the site in response to a complaint of a disturbance.

Camp residents told The Chronicle there’d been three visits by AAPD officers to the site on Monday, the previous day.

From statements by the officers and camp residents, the complaints of disturbances led AAPD to contact both the city attorney and the property owner, which ultimately led to the request on Monday evening to leave the property.

Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, said that on Monday evening the Delonis Center staff had offered to shelter anyone from the camp who was sober. A few of the campers took the center up on their offer.

Schulmeister also explained that the center houses around 150 people each year – that’s the number of people they are able to transition from their 50-bed shelter facility at 312 W. Huron St. to more stable permanent housing. That’s roughly 10% of the total 1,500 homeless population that the center serves.

Officers on the scene behind Arborland on Tuesday morning stressed to campers that they could not simply squat on private land unless they had explicit permission from the property owner to do so.

A New Camp Location, But Probably Not For Long

The first truckload of camp building materials arrived at the new location – north of the park-and-ride lot on Ann Arbor-Saline Road at I-94 – around noon on Tuesday. By around 3 p.m. a complaint had already been called in, and Ann Arbor police as well as a Pittsfield Township officer had arrived on the scene.

Homeless Camp Ann Arbor park-and-ride

Caleb Poirier talks with an AAPD officer at the new campsite Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by the writer.)

Part of the reason the new camp was easy to spot was that in the last few weeks the area has been cleared of all brush and undergrowth by the Michigan Department of Transportation, which controls the land.

When The Chronicle arrived at the park-and-ride, Poirier introduced to us one of the AAPD officers as “a reasonable conversationalist.” From what we observed, conversation on both sides could be fairly characterized as polite, civil, yet firm. AAPD officers at the park-and-ride reiterated the same message that had been delivered in the morning: You can’t camp on land that isn’t yours.

Campers were advised that there were other avenues they should pursue – a request to city council, for example. Poirier, for his part, stressed that on issues like homelessness, real progress was rarely made by using only the prescribed avenues. He also outlined how the group’s strategy was to secure permission from churches to camp on their property.

Because the land where the tents had been set up is not owned by the city, the AAPD doesn’t have jurisdiction over it. So the Ann Arbor officers departed, leaving campers with the expectation that the county sheriff’s department would be arriving later. “Whoever comes out,” advised the officer, “just listen to what they have to say.”

state trooper inspects homeless camp

A Michigan State Police Trooper checks tents for occupants Tuesday evening. (Photo by the writer.)

It turns out that, because MDOT controls the land in question, it was a Michigan State Police trooper, not a Washtenaw County Sheriff’s deputy, who was tasked with official enforcement of the law. So a little before 7 p.m. a trooper pulled into the park-and-ride lot, and went down to the camp. The same polite, civil and firm conversation was repeated for the third time the same day.

This time, though, there was more than conversation. The trooper collected identifying information from everyone at the camp and radioed it in. He wasn’t arresting anyone that night, but they’d be checking back, he said, possibly as soon as the next day.

Who Are These People and What Are They Thinking?

A sampling of what “Camp Take Notice” residents think about the camp would include Johnny’s thoughts from mid-July: “There’s nothing but positivity around here.” And that sampling would need to include Stretch’s description of how he’d been through various treatment programs, and never could stay sober – but he’d been sober at the camp since November 2008, he said.

We also heard some stories of how homelessness affects your ability to get a job – two job offers since April could not be accepted because the offers coincided with losing a place to live close to the jobs.

Caleb Poirier, when asked by the Michigan State Police trooper if he was the group’s leader, resisted the label – decisions of the group are made democratically, he stressed. But there is no question that other campers look to him for leadership. At the July meeting, Hunter – who had been pushing more urgently than Poirier to convince churches sooner rather than later to grant permission to camp on their property – still said, “I’ve been on Caleb’s team since day one. I didn’t really care about homeless people, and I was a homeless person.”

Hunter was a homeless person, but he’s still involved with MISSION. Many of the members of MISSION’s board are not homeless, have never been homeless, and would probably not be mistaken for a homeless person – but that’s hard to say for sure.

Take Lily Au, for example. She was out at both the old and the new campsites on Tuesday. She told The Chronicle that she learned about “Camp Take Notice” when someone mentioned it to her when she was volunteering at a Friday pizza distribution at Liberty Plaza. It’s an event often sponsored by the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor. So she went out to visit the camp. There she met Caleb Poirier – for the second time. She’d run into him long before at an Arby’s. That day at Arby’s she had been there with her two kids and had been lugging a lot of bags. And maybe because of the bags, Au says, Poirier had sized her up as homeless.

In following this story, The Chronicle can attest that it’s not easy to tell who’s homeless and who’s not – who’s a camper and who’s helping out but doesn’t live in the camp.

[For useful insights on who the homeless are, read a Nov. 30, 2008 Chronicle column by Peri Stone-Palmquist: "We Must See the Homeless – And We Must Help"]

Homeless Camp Ann Arbor Arborlan

Caleb Poirier and an AAPD officer at the campsite behind Arborland Tuesday morning. (Photo by the writer.)

state trooper inspects homeless camp

Michigan State Police trooper at a park-and-ride campsite Tuesday evening. At right is Lily Au. (Photo by the writer.)

state trooper inspects homeless camp

Unloading the truck at the park-and-ride campsite. (Photo by the writer.)

U-Haul truck and homeless camp trooper inspects homeless camp

A U-Haul truck backs up to the park-and-ride campsite. (Photo by the writer.)


Rules of the camp. (Image links to higher resolution file)

fire extinguisher next to straw

"Camp Take Notice" in July 2009. (Photo by the writer.)

apples on ground at homeless camp

The view from under the apple tree at the park-and-ride, looking towards the new campsite location. (Photo by the writer.)


  1. By Dave
    September 2, 2009 at 12:14 pm | permalink

    I’m impressed at how organized they are. In fact I believe they are so organized that they could easily hold down jobs, buy/rent their own property, pay into the systems that they are mooching off of, etc.

    I have tremendous sympathy for the profoundly mentally ill, but these folks don’t seem to fit in that category. I believe this because they are more preoccupied with their tax exemption status than finding work. That’s pretty sophisticated stuff. I get that they are getting outside aid, but profoundly mentally ill folk have no concept of TE status.

    I think they are drop-outs, plain and simple, and I don’t believe that being a freeloader is a right.

    I believe they reside in and/or moved to Ann Arbor for one reason: they thought their neo-bohemian-gypsy-nomad lifestyle would be tolerated. I’m personally glad to see that the cops are tying to put an end to that fantasy.

    Oh yeah…BTW, I was homeless once (for a short while) so I think I’m in a pretty good position to talk about this.

  2. By Rod Johnson
    September 2, 2009 at 1:56 pm | permalink

    It’s interesting that campers are identified by name here but the cops are just “an AAPD officer.” Is that just a fluke of this coverage, or is there some sort of policy behind it? (I’m not “going anywhere” with this comment, just curious about how decisions like this are made.)

  3. September 2, 2009 at 3:31 pm | permalink

    I was and im one of those campers And to the lack of knowedge you can be intelligent and mentally ill depression doesnt mean you run around wanting to be suicidal. some folk want there own places,and jobs,some people made legal mistakes in the past and no one will hire them. must be nice to be born with a silver spoon in you mouth. Remember you Obama Supporters “Share the Wealth”

  4. By Dave Askins
    September 2, 2009 at 4:06 pm | permalink

    Phone call from Brain Nord just now reporting that Caleb is being arrested. Law enforcement agency is Michigan State Police.

  5. September 2, 2009 at 4:27 pm | permalink

    I don’t want to cause conflict with Dave. I DO want to point out that I attended a meeting of the Board of MISSION at Mallets Creek Library — much as The Chronicle did. Since then, I’ve been in infrequent contact with Hunter Roberts.

    My observation at the time was that the Board was made up of volunteers who were not homeless and never had been homeless (I knew some of these people) as well as some people who were currently homeless and others who had once been homeless and were now working / paying rent. This kind of mix is perfectly capable of putting together a pretty decent brochure and an application for non-profit status.

    These folks were not terrifically sopisticated, but they were idealistic and very committed to their vision of seeing homelessness as a different path. They really expected the greater community to embrace their goals and help them help themselves.

    That’s why they turned to the churches, looking for support.

  6. By Stretch
    September 2, 2009 at 4:53 pm | permalink

    I am also someone who lives at the camp. People sometimes look at us like we are misfits and thats wrong. What we are is people just like you. So the next time you see a homeless person cut him some slack…because you never know it could be you some day.

  7. By Bob Martel
    September 2, 2009 at 8:30 pm | permalink

    I am frankly not sure what to make of all this.

  8. By Diane C
    September 2, 2009 at 8:43 pm | permalink

    I think they are drop-outs, plain and simple, and I don’t believe that being a freeloader is a right.

    I believe they reside in and/or moved to Ann Arbor for one reason: they thought their neo-bohemian-gypsy-nomad lifestyle would be tolerated. I’m personally glad to see that the cops are tying to put an end to that fantasy.

    Oh yeah…BTW, I was homeless once (for a short while) so I think I’m in a pretty good position to talk about this.

    Boy…….are you judgmental, hope you are never homeless….gee Dave.

  9. By Ellen Schulmeister
    September 2, 2009 at 8:59 pm | permalink

    Hi – I am Ellen Schulmeister and I just wanted to add the part Dave did not put in my comments (no offense Dave) — The reason we can only house 10% of the people we serve is there is no housing at 0 dollars and there is no affordable housing for people with incomes of 100 – 600 dollars per month. Anything that is decent, clean, and available, leaves no dollars for other necessisities. This has been the problem. We (our country and community) need a way to house people who are poor, in a decent way, period. We also need to provide MH care; Sub Abuse care at the same rate we provide health care and everyone needs health care. We also need to assist people before they loose their housing. Let’s work on these items. In the mean time, many people are homeless today and there will be more tomorrow – where do you think they will be? People who are homeless are just people without a place to live. Thanks, Ellen

  10. By Chandelle
    September 2, 2009 at 11:15 pm | permalink

    I am deeply saddened that no one in the community has done anything about this. I understand they cannot just relocate on private property or what have you, but with an area the size of Ann Arbor are you telling me there is NO where for these people to go? Lets remember these are PEOPLE we are talking about. We send MILLIONS/BILLIONS of dollars, supplies, food, etc, over seas but cannot help people here in our own community? To me it seems as though they are being kind, respectful etc, not being obnoxious, drug addicts etc…So what gives?

    I am just gravely saddened by all of this. Let us know what the members of this community can do to help!

  11. By Hospadaruk
    September 2, 2009 at 11:16 pm | permalink

    Great article. I don’t think that homelessness is only caused by being “profoundly mentally ill”. I think it’s more complicated than that and surely there are a lot of reasons for the homeless other than being ill or neo-bohemian.

  12. By Bear
    September 2, 2009 at 11:35 pm | permalink

    Dave, I believe that you make many assumptions based upon your own prejudices.

    I am not slamming you, just making an observation based upon what you wrote.

    I lived in a similar camp in Santa Cruz, where rents are very high, for various reasons. It was called camp paradise. Please try to put yourself in other’s shoes. I know it may be hard, but try. I am a professional. I have also been homeless.

    The time I spent in Camp Paradise gave me the ability to exist, the time and space to plan my next move and some lessons in life that are invaluable. It takes all kinds to make the world go round. What part of that wheel is more important than any other part?

    There is an old saying, “You can judge a society by how they treat the LEAST of their citizens more than you can judge them by how they treat the BEST.” I like to represent my country, my state, my city as a citizen and treat everyone with the same respect due any human being.

    Just another perspective,

  13. By Dave
    September 3, 2009 at 8:29 am | permalink

    Hey everyone,
    I was the [commenter in 1] at the top [not the author of the article]. I really appreciate the other perspectives. Some good dialogue on here.

    I’d like to point out that in this area (SE Michigan) one can get a room or even an apartment for $300-400 a month. It might not be in Barton Hills, but it’s a place to live. You can work at McDonalds and afford something like this. Anyone, literally anyone, can get hired at a fast food joint. Or a Jiffy Lube. Or most retail stores.

    I think a lot of you have made presumptions about me, and people who share my opinion. I, too have had a myriad of challenges: drug abuse, criminal record, stints in jail, ruined credit, no skills/eductation, severe bi-polar disorder, etc. Instead of complaining that I “wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” I worked…and worked…and worked, and never gave up.

    Now I am quite successful. I live on a nice lake in Oakland County, have a great job, etc. How? I got help, got a skill, then an education, and worked my butt off. No God, no magic, no TE exemption, no 12 steps, it was plain ol’ me.

    Let me qualify my philosophy on homelessness:
    For those of you that are trying to get back on your feet, I commend you and I WAS you. For those of you that have serious mental illness, my heart goes out to you. For those of you that have CHOSEN to drop out of society, I have zero sympathy for you.

    I understand being homeless in every facet, and being around LOTS of homeless people has shown me that most have simply chosen a life with no responsibilities. I’m just being real and I’m in the position to make this assessment. I hope everyone can also shrewdly assess the situation, give help where needed, and give some tough love for those who want to skate off our backs. I’m sorry, but I’m just calling it like I see it.

  14. September 3, 2009 at 8:30 am | permalink

    While some are getting caught up with why the homeless are homeless, it may be a good idea to understand that talking about why people are homelessness does not do anything to make people less homeless. It is a fact that some are homeless. The question is what to do about it?

    The responsibility whether anyone wants to admit it or not, seems to fall on the church and those that support the church as they are supposed to represent the will and love of God for all people and not just one particular group. I would think it clear that church folk should understand Matthew 25:31-46 in that whatever is done to the least of these, it is being done to God.

    What? Have a church and not care about people? Another fact is that many are watching what the church will or will not do in the midst of the need. It is a test of love thy neighbor as thyself. Of course everyone is aware of this. My suggestion is to share the responsibility of the providing the space by the churches and then each church support the effort with $100 per month to support the effort year round. $100 per month will not kill anyone and it will at least show a certain amount of LOVE and FAITH. It would also give the churches and opportunity to work together, which is also scriptural. Faith and love is what should be shown. They will know that you are mine, by your love one for the other. Either that love is there or it isn’t, but that is the yardstick that God is using to determine whether we are His or not.

    The clock is running on the church. God will determine when the time is up. How ever these people are treated and judged will be more than likely how the church will be treated and judged. There simply is no choice for the church and gives reason for people to support the church, if the church is actually working to help people.

    Everyone needs help at some point in life. It would be nice for God’s people to give that help. The point of all of this is, the church has a covenant with God and God will move on he covenant if the church will stand on the covenant. God won’t force anyone to stand. We need to be willing to stand and it would be wisdom for people to stand on what they preach.

    In the end what is written here will be the only perspective.

  15. By Michael Schils
    September 3, 2009 at 8:51 am | permalink

    Wow, the author says in comment #4 that the person, who at least some perceived as the leader of the group, was being arrested by the MSP. I kind of figured the collection of IDs was a bad sign.

    It would seem that this apparent arrest and the first comment are both reminders that “The System” almost all of us are a part of by default, doesn’t take well to those who decline to join in.

  16. By Michael Schils
    September 3, 2009 at 9:09 am | permalink

    I forgot to refresh the page before my previous comment, else I would have seen that Dave’s last comment perhaps makes my allegation that he is a voice of “The System” less appropriate.

  17. By Seth Best
    September 3, 2009 at 10:39 am | permalink

    Dave(poster #1),

    I want to let you know a little more about the people of the camp. First off I was one of them for close to 5 months, feb to july, I didn’t want to be there or homeless but it was a safe place to be. I became homeless when I lost my job in May of 2008, at the time I lived in Dallas, TX I try getting help there but because of peoples prejusite (sp?) I was turned away. I came to Michigan, to Ann Arbor, because I knew I could get help, or at least I thought that I could. Also I am a Medical Asst., been one for 3 years in multi. feilds and I thought that with Hospital it would easy to get a job.

    I got here on Aug. 22, 2008 via Grayhound at 10:30pm. I went to the Delonis Center in hope that I would have a safe place to sleep for the night, instead I was turn away because it was after “curfew”. I was told via speaker phone to come back the next day and that they couldn’t help me at all untill I was “checked in”. So I was here but still having to sleep on the street and I didn’t know anyone in town. In effort to try to keep this short, I was able to get into Delonis the next day and spend the next month sleeping inside in a chair having to be in each night at 9 pm and kicked out, with most of my belongings, the next morning at 6 am. I felt like I commented some crime, also I want to state that I don’t do drugs, and while I might have a beer now and then I don’t drink and didnt at all the 5 months I was in the center.

    So there I was a sober, clean, educated person being treated like I didn’t have a brain. Now I do have mental health issuses, depression, antzity(sp?), dsylexia, and ADHD. That has made it challenging to get jobs. But I tried. I sent out over 60 job apps the first month i was here. I did odd jobs, and went canning (which for those of you who don’t know it means to collect returnable cans and bottles to turn in for money).

    I met Caleb at the Friday night pizza libraty(sp?) plaza and he told me about the tent city that he was trying to get going here. I was very impressed, I like the idea of having control of my life agian. I didn’t go out right way. I was trying to work with the Center but it just wasn’t working out. so in feb. I was fed up with the shelter adn I left. I again want to state I was CLEAN and SOBER and sleeping on the street while there were people in the Center that were smoking crack in the bathroom, popping pills, shooting up and drinking that they got to stay. Also don’t get me worng the Center helped in some ways but they were turning a blind eye to the sub abuse that was happening right under their nose! So not wanting to be in a drug envorment I left and when to Camp Take Notice.

    I was still looking for work, but realy and truely there are only so many apps one can fill out in a day. And to your point that one could work at a fast food is true but as for a place for rent for $300 I never could find that. I did find a place for 395 a month but guess what? there was a 2 year waitlist! I started to help the camp out here and there just doing little things maybe an hour here and there. I got into some programs for myself and now have a place of my own but I know that if it wasn’t for Camp Take Notice I wouldn’t have been able to make this far.

    There many nights in feb, apirl and may that all I wanted to do was kill myself just turn on the heater I had not light and slowly poison myself but I didn’t want the other campers to find me dead so I gathered up what i could in me and made it another day and another and another. I had a goal, my life had a point because of the Camp. It wasn’t always the greatest, not everything went the way it should, but I tell you there is nothing like waking up to the smell of bacon and eggs, or being the one getting up early so that someone else could wake up to that smell and know that there was someone who cared.

    I know that the other campers that were in recovercy also like knowing that people were there for them and treated like equals, valueing thier input, and valueing them just being there and sober. The majority people at the Camp don’t want to be there, don’t want to be jobless, homeless, or worthless. They want to work, want to be in a home, be part of “normal” life. The Camp gives them (and gave me) a chance to get a little of that back. At the Camp one has a voice and purpous. I couldn’t find that anywhere else.

    Well thank you for reading all of this I hope it makes since and that the spelling and the grammer isn’t too bad. I would be happy to answer any question one may have. One can email me at

    Thank you,
    Seth Best

  18. By Karen
    September 3, 2009 at 10:39 am | permalink

    I commend this group of homeless individuals for attempting to take control of the one aspect most of us take for granted – a roof over our head. Who are we to judge why / how they do this. I am incredibly impressed by the camp rules and it shows that they have respect, both for themselves and others.

    I think Dr Williams suggestion is inspired and hope/pray that word gets to the churches and they consider doing this.

  19. By Sam W.
    September 3, 2009 at 11:18 am | permalink

    I find it messed up that Celab got arrested for doing something right.

  20. By Michael Schils
    September 3, 2009 at 11:36 am | permalink

    Ann has more on the arrest: Link

  21. By Ronnie
    September 3, 2009 at 11:51 am | permalink

    As more and more people are becoming homeless, don’t we have a responsibility to help them, especially when they are trying to take care of themselves so well?

    From what I know about Camp Take Notice, they have a strict no drugs and no alcohol rule. Campers take responsibility for running the camp, along with other volunteers, which helps prepare them for reintegrating into society. The group is providing a safe and nurturing temporary space for people who have nowhere else to go.

    Let’s find a way to support Camp Take Notice and find them a place to be…. there has to be land available somewhere!

  22. By Dave Askins
    September 3, 2009 at 11:52 am | permalink

    An update from a mid-morning visit from the camp’s new park-and-ride location. Many belongings still piled right at the park-and-ride. Some tents still in place. Eight or nine people slept there last night — half homeless, half “homefull” (not a term they’re entirely happy with but are using for lack of an alternative).

    Caleb was released from custody around 5 a.m. earlier this morning.

  23. September 3, 2009 at 12:18 pm | permalink

    To the comment that Mrs Sabra Briere stated she attented a meeting at mallets creeks that we are not “terribly sophisticated” i mean the great depression they were living in tents,do your history.How do we not know that the fluxuating gas prices are a sign of an economic collapse? i actually read the book when it came out in 1991 The Great Econmic Earthquake by Larry Burkette who is know deceased.One thing they didnt teach people at the U-M was experience!! you had to get that on your own when you couldnt you moved back in with Mommy and Daddy.Hey Mrs Briere i am at the expresso Royale drinking Tea with my pinky up!

  24. September 3, 2009 at 12:21 pm | permalink

    Calebs my hero,next to my pastor Dr. Milton C. Woods

  25. By Jon Swanson
    September 3, 2009 at 1:03 pm | permalink

    A few questions (in no necessary order)): (1)What is the unemployment rate in Michigan – in the USA? (2) How long do benefits last? (3)How many people have reached their limit for unemployment benefits? (4)Do you have to be mentally ill to be unemployed? (5)How many people have rent free rooms or apartments? (6)Is the bailout for banks, insurance companies, and the auto industry bigger than the bailouts for working people? (7)Should we expect more or less unemployment? (8)How big is the monthly supplemental security income check in Michigan? (You can Google this.) What symptoms do you have to exhibit to receive SSI or disability? Are the working conditions/income of panhandlers better than the working conditions of fast food workers, teachers, or lawyers? Is the contribution of panhandlers to society greater than, the same as, or less than that of advertising executives, bankers, corporate attorneys, phamaceutical representatives, stock brokers? When did George Orwell die?

  26. September 3, 2009 at 5:29 pm | permalink

    In response to Mr. Braun (#24) — I meant no criticism. Instead, I was trying to respond to Dave’s comment (#1) that:

    “. . . (he has)tremendous sympathy for the profoundly mentally ill, but these folks don’t seem to fit in that category. (he believes)this because they are more preoccupied with their tax exemption status than finding work. That’s pretty sophisticated stuff. . . ”

    My effort to respond in kind clearly failed. Let me say, instead, that the people I met were / and are / quite capable of seeing a problem and seeking a solution, but not professionals in non-profit organizing. This is no failure on their part; instead, it shows their commitment to trying to solve a problem without seeking government assistance.


  27. By Mox La Push
    September 4, 2009 at 3:57 pm | permalink

    I lived for many years in Ann Arbor and moved to Seattle this summer. I met Caleb in A2–he’s a great guy–and I once took him on a walking tour of many sites in A2 where homeless people had lived in small groups rather unobtrusively. But the A2 city council and business community have waged a low-grade war of sorts against poor people for years and rendered those sites unsuitable or uninhabitable. They have been aided and abetted in this war by many ‘good liberals’ who patted themselves on the back for breakfast programs, grossly and deliberately (in spite of the best efforts of Ellen Shulmeister et al) inadequate shelter facilities, etc. while they studiously ignored the larger structural issues of social injustice that lead to poverty and homelessness.

    The temporary tent communities in Seattle have provided some respite for a very small percentage of Seattle’s homeless population but Nickelsville–the tent community in Seattle–has been on the move and under siege almost continuously. It was forced to move twice this year and is now facing eviction proceedings by the Seattle Port Authority. By and large, the churches are NOT stepping forward to offer space for the encampment and haven’t for months. In this regard, they’re much like Ann Arbor churches–they just don’t want Jesus sleeping on their steps or grounds. My old church in A2 has a standing policy of calling the police on homeless people for merely sleeping on the grounds.

  28. September 5, 2009 at 7:05 am | permalink

    Many thanks to the Chronicle and all the commenters for this enlightening look at some of the less visible but important aspects of Ann Arbor. It made me appreciate the fact that I have never been homeless though some years were quite bleak. But I also realized that since I was 8 years old until I retired 15 years ago, I had never been without some kind of a job.

  29. By Seth Best
    September 5, 2009 at 7:48 am | permalink

    Caleb was arrested again tonight just before midnight.

  30. By Jay Barth
    September 5, 2009 at 10:20 am | permalink

    Ten years ago when the homeless shelter was announced, I along with a number of my neighbors, was called every name in the book from anti homeless on down. I say “announced” because the decision was made before the charade of public meetings ever took place.
    My crime? Along with many neighbors I felt that a more appropriate place would have been the old YMCA. This would have allowed ample space as well as retaining over 100 units of low income housing. The savings would have been in the millions. We were assured that those housing units would be replaced.
    Here we are ten years and millions upon millions of dollars later, and the affordable house situation has only become worse.
    It is ironic the we were labeled NIMBY by those who truly were.
    The hypocrisy in this town can be daunting at times.
    Commissioner Bergman has a very large and beautiful lawn over on Geddes Road that would be perfect for this camp…

  31. September 5, 2009 at 10:51 am | permalink

    The original discussions about the replacement for the emergency shelter (remember, that used to be on Huron where there is now a yoga studio) were to erect a 200-bed structure that would have included some space for families on county-owned land on Ellsworth. Two things happened: it was considered essential to have the shelter downtown (which immediately places limitations on it) and advocates lobbied to have a restricted number of beds (only 50)with the aim (I believe) of moving shelter occupants into permanent housing more quickly. We actually lost beds when the shelter was moved into the new facility. It is hard to know for certain when making such important decisions what the future effects will be.

    Jay Barth’s account seems to have somewhat confused timing. At the time that the shelter on Huron was being replaced, the Y already had 100 units of housing and they remained there for some years afterward. I don’t recall (but memory is imperfect) that the Y was put forth as an alternative at the time.

    I don’t consider it fair to pinpoint one commissioner personally. We all made that decision for a number of complex reasons. I found it especially difficult since the eventual location was in my district. The public was divided on the issue, with many advocates for the homeless also living nearby. As a historical note, Mr. Barth ran a general election campaign against me partly based on that issue. I’m grateful that he didn’t mention my lawn, which is larger than Commissioner Bergman’s, and also has a nice vegetable garden.

  32. By Jay Barth
    September 5, 2009 at 11:05 am | permalink

    While Vivienne is correct that the Y’s low income units remained for a time, however it was known that the Y was moving and that barring any other use of the facility these housing units were going away . My timing is not at all “confused”.

  33. By Jay Barth
    September 5, 2009 at 11:09 am | permalink

    BTW use of the Y was at the forefront of many of the neighbors thoughts. It was dismissed by the commission as they had already made their decision.
    Also, Ellen and her staff do a superb job, and could have done so at any location….

  34. September 5, 2009 at 12:40 pm | permalink

    Unfortunately I gave all my documents on the history of the shelter to Conan Smith. But we began discussing the new shelter in 1997, I’m pretty sure. I looked back at some other files and find that the AATA proposed buying the Y property in 2000, which was about the right time frame to be in the discussion on the shelter (that went on a long time). (The council bought the property in 2003.) So Jay is correct that these discussions were going on in the same time frame. Still, the 100 units already existed and the replacement of the emergency shelter to my memory was always viewed as an issue separate (a different need) from the 100 units, which were viewed as transitional housing or possibly permanent housing. Sorry if I was offensive in use of the word “confused”.

    And yes, Ellen Schulmeister has exceeded all our hopes and expectations in the running of the shelter. One piece of good news, at least. Thank you, Ellen.

  35. By Jay Barth
    September 5, 2009 at 1:15 pm | permalink

    Thank you Vivienne…the only reason I pointed out Commissioner Bergman was due to the fact that she was brutal in her treatment of those who disagreed with her, and adamant that she would “see to it that those housing units would be replaced”…ten years ago.

  36. By Judy Willibey
    September 5, 2009 at 5:22 pm | permalink

    WOW! I am just reading this…how incredible…and good for them for taking this stand of self determination!

    I can really relate to these folks as I too have lived like this in Ann Arbor in my day. In fact most everyone who knows me knows (I) lived in the “Turnip Green” city garden plot up on north Maple rd. one whole spring/summer/fall in a pick up truck with a camper on the back. After a bit I had the camper off the truck onto it’s ‘legs’ & saw horses, using the truck for transportation. I simply bought a Turnip Green garden plot since there was a combination on the locked gate to get into it (and gardened my spot, which=free food!) I worked at the Peoples Food Co-op some and then the Ann Arbor News eventually. When winter came, I moved to my friends back yard on Nordman st. and got electricity for a space heater in the camper.

    That following spring I moved my “homestead” to the same Park & Ride on Ann Arbor Saline Rd. that these folks were just evicted from! I remember one night sitting alone in my lawn chair with my dog Jackson by my side, watching the total eclipse of the moon and thinking life was pretty darned good and would hopefully be getting better. At this point I moved into a place to live and that was that, but I do “get” where these folks are coming from.

    I hope the local church’s or somebody can offer some land to help them. And…WHY are they arresting this fellow ‘Caleb’? What’s with that?? For what reason??? As my friend Carol the (Ann Arbor) cab driver always says…there’s a million different stories in the big city, this has been one of them.

    Come on folks…can’t somebody help these folks out with some land? If I owned any property, I would.

  37. By Lily Au
    September 5, 2009 at 11:48 pm | permalink

    The greatness of “Camp Take Notice” is more. Do you know that of course, we’ve a noble soul, Caleb. He clothes and feeds you before he does to himself (this part always makes me uptight). For example, this time he was sent to jail. People don’t see that he sacrifices himself to save the camp. Outside, you meet many rich, so-called high class people but you can’t compare the same so We also have an amazing & diligent, energetic board. We’ve meetings 4 or 5 times a week. We made media packet/ bylaws/ 501C3 status with high efficiency. We’ve smarts people, Caleb is very intelligent, others are PHDS. Me? I’m nutritionist (no License), recreation manager, resource staff, psychologist, fitness coach(fake)…..You don’t know what campers have there, we’ve swimming days, bowling party, movie days, bible study, sometimes I supervise food there too. My name is Raccoon, I like picking gently used stuff from dumpster for them.

    “Camp Take Notice” might not be perfect, we’ve some fun things you can’t find elsewhere. The camp is absolutely CLEAN and SOBER. I’m a soft-hearted person, I did try to ask for chance for campers who violated the rule. The result was always, “No, he cannot stay!”

    Caleb was arrested again Friday’s midnight in the dark, the trooper didn’t know that we had many board members there to protect the camp with camera to record what police did. They threatened us to leave in the complete dark, the taste of “Secret Police”. The night, Caleb was arrested second time, I even had the feeling being in “Beijing, China–Tenennmum” all done in the dark.
    Ann Arbor really did the most stupid thing. The camp is an alternate place for homeless, at least, you don’t have to sleep on chairs. Caleb is a “Noble Soul”. We put them in jail. ???!!!. Let’s see next week court case. Rumor has it that Tuesday, one o’clock. I really hope that the judge happens to read all our comments before sending Caleb to jail. We hope people at churches would do their part to help out the needy in our community. Of course, Ann Arbor City also has to consider the “Housing First Initiatives” program which claims success in nine different states across the country these 2 years. Check online, you’d know more about the merit & magic of the program.

  38. September 6, 2009 at 2:18 pm | permalink

    My point why i am not working i want to work you know why? do i really have to put my business online? I messed up in the past no one wants to hire me. this is my 2nd stint of homelessness, in January of 2004 i started working at the Kroger on Plymouth Rd after my background check cameback even when i disclosed my past to them they fired me. and when w.g grinders was in operation for six months the owner let me go because one of his drivers found out i lived at the shelter

  39. By Mox La Push
    September 6, 2009 at 8:29 pm | permalink

    Good points, Jay Barth. Also worth mentioning is fight over the the old armory across from Ann Arbor City Hall. The city got it from the state for $1 and some community members/activists wanted to use it for a homeless shelter/low-income housing. The city council and local business leaders said “Nyet” and sold it to a local developer who put in some upscale condos.

    Commissioner Barbara Levin Bergman, a trained social worker and member of the County Homeland Security Task Force, was featured in the Snooze on May 24, 2008 expressing her frustration over her inability to use lethal injection to take care of a “career nuisance”:

    ” ‘Clearly, what we did in jail didn’t work,’ said Washtenaw County Commissioner Barbara Bergman. ‘What are we going to do with this guy? We can’t afford to keep putting him in jail. We can’t put him out of his misery by lethal injection.

    ” ‘He isn’t a career criminal. He is a career nuisance.’ ”

    Link to Ann Arbor News article.

    Reporter Tom Gantert did a hatchet job on the four men who are the article’s subjects. They are never heard from–they are the subjects of remarks and characterizations by police and others but their voices are not heard. Gantert apparently never even attempted to let them tell their stories. I was acquainted with two of the men profiled in the article and Gantert did a disservice to them and his readers. The comments to the article speak volumes about what’s acceptable discourse in Ann Arbor.

  40. September 7, 2009 at 6:10 am | permalink

    It is well and good for you people to be so judgmental but I AM a homeless person who has been seeking employment since 2002 and am presently in a job retraining program but with the economy tanking the way it is now, I do not think I will be finding a job once I get out.
    You don’t seem to realize that once the jobs are gone, they are GONE. They went overseas and they were technologically displaced and WHAT ABOUT ALL OF YOUR AUTOMOTIVE JOBS IN MICHIGAN? You people have nearly a THIRD WORLD ECONOMY here.
    Instead of ridiculing homeless people, YOU BETTER FIGURE OUT HOW YOU ARE GOING TO AVOID HOMELESSNESS! BECAUSE I did everything I was supposed to do, went to school, got the job, and was technologically displaced from three jobs before I was finally injured on a job that had no worker’s comp insurance and the company owner left the state. So tell me how I AM A BOHEMIAN and all of the other epithets. because GPA don’t mean**** in the real world.
    I pray that you people will be homeless and try to get out of the trap and the prison.

  41. By Donald Lyons
    September 7, 2009 at 1:39 pm | permalink

    @Mox. Hatchet job? By that you mean the reporter dug up official court files and police records on these people. Records, which, by the way, also detail their own excuses for their behavior. Stop being an apologist for criminals.

  42. September 10, 2009 at 3:53 pm | permalink

    Donald Lyons dont understand i been out of trouble for over ten years i went to Job retraining in April of 2008 in Pontiac,mi nu-way truck driving school i havent stopped trying and because of my public record i am unable to drive freight in and out of Canada and the companies the School worked with hire over the road before you can do local dedicated routes

  43. By Shannon
    September 17, 2009 at 4:38 pm | permalink

    Has “Camp Take Notice” been relocated? I don’t see it at Ann Arbor-Saline/I-94 these days.

  44. By Dave Askins
    September 17, 2009 at 11:32 pm | permalink

    Re: [43] Yes, it has relocated, i.e., not completely erased. Meetings with city officials, agencies, etc. are scheduled.

  45. September 18, 2009 at 10:53 am | permalink

    to(#43.)We dont run from adversity!. What kind of organization would we be if we did? who would look for help if we did?

  46. September 24, 2009 at 11:52 am | permalink

    One thing i thought i mentioned was Why we were thrown out out of the camp it was the force behind Peter Building Company evicting us off the land. the police went to the head of PBC and a letter was wrote out so the police could have their way to remove us.