Post updated at 9:59 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13:
The sky was overcast as Jennifer Adams scanned the support camp in North Lawrence Monday morning. Many tents are empty, gone or disassembled.
Adams’ eyes were red from crying off and on since Friday, when the city issued a batch of eviction notices to people at the camp, demanding they leave — some within five days, others by Jan. 15 — and take their belongings, or the city would destroy them.
“It’s finally calmed down here, you know, the people that are here have finally come together and are becoming a community and we’re being destroyed,” Adams said. “I poured myself into this camp; it was my baby.”
Known as Mama Jenn, Adams helped maintain peace at the support site, motivating people to do their part to keep the camp clean and orderly. Her effort feels all for naught now, she said.
Vance Swallow felt demoralized when he saw the eviction tacked to his tent.
“I am a veteran and they are kicking us out for no reason,” Swallow said. “We aren’t bothering Johnny’s (Tavern) and there hasn’t been a cop incident for a long time. I have so much stuff and I didn’t even get 30 days or 15.”
Homeless advocate Kevin Elliott was aghast at the news, and said he’s trying to convince the city to reverse its decision. He also went to the support camp to provide emotional support.
“I went and chatted with a couple people today, both of which burst into tears and asked for hugs,” Elliott said. “There they feel like they’re being herded. They’re not gonna stop being homeless, they’re just going to stop receiving service. They’re going to stop being organized. They’re gonna stop having access to restrooms or having access to trash cans.”
The city has funneled nearly 100 people experiencing homelessness into the support camp by Johnny’s Tavern starting in September, though the camp’s population has fluctuated up and down.
The support camp was launched to provide emergency shelter since the Lawrence Community Shelter is often not accepting new guests. But it was also intended to provide a centralized location for people experiencing houselessness to receive services and connect with outreach team members.
Through a staggered eviction process, the city is directing 10 people at a time out of the camp. The notices refer evictees to the Winter Emergency Shelter, which is open to the homeless from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m nightly until March 12 at the Community Building, 115 W. 11th St.
The city’s website on homeless programs as of Monday afternoon still said the camp would be available during the months that the overnight shelter is open.
Some people avoid the WES because of the lack of partitions between sleepers as everyone stays in an open gym.
Adams, who has a housing voucher but can’t find a landlord who will accept it, wants to stay outside until she finds her own place so she can keep her dog with her. The WES allows dogs to stay, but separate from their owners. Adams also wants her own privacy and space, and the Community Building is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., making that near impossible, she said.
Adams said she is not the only one who will be seeking an unsanctioned camp to stay — again. Some will go to Burcham Park, near Second and Indiana streets. Others will head to the camp behind Amtrak, near Seventh and New Jersey streets in East Lawrence.
People have already been camping at a site behind Amtrak for a couple of years. Among them was a man named Norman who came to the city-sanctioned support camp in North Lawrence this fall, hoping for a peaceful place to recoup and rebuild.
Norman said it was hard to gain his bearings at the Amtrak camp because of the surrounding chaos: people would argue, fight and occasionally destroy property. It wasn’t ordered like it had been at the support site.
“I knew this place was safer,” Norman said. “If I’d known it was going to happen like this, I would have stayed where I was at.”
Members of the city’s Homeless Initiatives Division did not respond to us Monday when we asked why the city has decided to disassemble the support site at this time.
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.