What could have been a calamitous situation that negatively affected lives already in upheaval was averted last week thanks to extraordinary effort by a community that once more showed it not only cares about the welfare of the less fortunate but acts to provide succor.
Officials at Camp Hope, the temporary homeless encampment that is pretty much permanently parked at a site behind a former Kmart, had forgotten the dates of a scheduled twice-yearly temporary move and had failed to find an alternate site for its two-week hiatus.
This contractual obligation, a city-mandated two-week “break” every six months that allows the camp to maintain “temporary” status in what is a nebulous state law, may not be the optimal arrangement. But it has allowed the nonprofit to more or less give the approximately 80 people using the camp for shelter and food a quasi-permanent, somewhat stable living arrangement until Yakima can move forward and construct, well, a permanent facility.
Until late May’s deadline, Camp Hope officials had been vigilant in planning well in advance for these temporary moves. But mistakes happen, and they found themselves scrambling for a venue.
That’s when the hearts and wallets of the community stepped in.
First, Sportsman State Park across the Yakima River from Camp Hope, was able to free up enough space to rent camping sites for slightly more than half of the people bedding down at the camp. But that arrangement last only four days before the park would be filled with Memorial Day weekend guests who had made reservations.
In stepped the Yakama Nation, which itself has experienced its share of housing issues for people without shelter. The tribe’s homeless program, Village of Hope, made the former armory in Toppenish (which it owns) available for Camp Hope’s population. There they will stay until Saturday, when the clock runs out on its two-week hiatus and Camp Hope can reconvene back at its usual site.
It was an appreciative act of generosity by the Yakama Nation. Its members made visitors feel welcomes by placing a sign, “Not Hopeless,” at the armory entrance. The tribe, which has not asked to be reimbursed, also provided portable mattresses so that Camp Hope did not have to lug bedding and other supplies from its permanent facility. Camp Hope director Mike Kay called it a “unique opportunity for us to collaborate with the tribe.”
Meanwhile, Camp Hope itself did not remain idle during the dormancy. While the residents were living in Toppenish, volunteers moved 40 bed frames, headboards included, to the regular site for the men’s section of the facility. (Women already had beds.)
A $5,750 donation from the Home Depot Foundation, acting on a grant proposal from Sunrise Rotary, paid for the bed construction, which also included bins for residents to store their possessions. Local businesses also provided help, including Yakima’s Coca-Cola Bottling facility, which provided a venue for the beds’ construction by Sunrise Rotary members.
The new beds, a stark improvement over army-style cots, will give residents a sense of place and permanence for lives in flux. When Camp Hopers return on Saturday from being shuttled to other sites in the Valley, they will at least have improved conditions to look forward to.
That’s all well and good, but it’s still a far cry from a “real” permanent shelter the city desires and has toiled for years to build. The city earlier this year approved a permanent shelter to be built on 2.6-acres of city land northeast of Camp Hope, but the matter has been tied up in litigation with the Yakima Greenway, because the land in question falls within the Greenway’s overlay zone. Any development, therefore, must meet compatibility standards with the recreation use of the area.
Unfortunately, a quick resolution does not appear likely, though settlement talks between the city and Greenway officials are ongoing. The Greenway has filed suit seeking to block construction, and no action will be taken until at least September, when the matter is heard before the state’s Growth Management Hearing Board.
The search for a permanent site for a homeless shelter has been a multi-year saga, as city residents have shot down various options near populated areas. Even if the Greenway eventually reaches agreement with the city, it still will be a year or two before the shelter can be built.
So that means that Camp Hope’s twice-yearly migration to ad hoc venues will continue. We hope Camp Hope officials will be better prepared for the next temporary move. Still, it’s nice knowing that people and organizations in the Valley feel compelled to step forward and lend a hand.