Lansing officials say people must leave Back 40 homeless camp by Monday

Lansing officials say people must leave Back 40 homeless camp by Monday

Sarah Lehr, Lansing State Journal  12/19/2020


Lansing officials say people must leave Back 40 homeless camp by Monday

LANSING — City officials say they are telling people to leave a homeless encampment known as the Back 40 by Monday morning.

Earlier this month city officials confirmed they planned to clear the space, citing health and safety issues, although at the time Lansing administrators said they had no hard deadline for making people leave.

The city believes eight to 10 people are currently staying at the camp on a vacant lot at the corner of North Larch Street and East Saginaw Highway, Lansing spokeswoman Valerie Marchand said Friday afternoon.

More: Lansing plans to clear ‘Back 40’ homeless camp, citing health issues

All but two of those people have agreed to be relocated to other housing such as homeless shelters, according to Marchand.

Dave Dale, an advocate for the homeless who spends time at the Back 40 camp, disagreed with the city’s estimate and said at least 20 people live at the camp. The Lansing State Journal observed at least a dozen tents at the property earlier this month.

Related: How many homeless people are in Greater Lansing? Volunteers spent a night on the streets to counta man wearing a hat and sunglasses: Timothy Hawkins warms himself by a fire at an encampment near Saginaw Highway and Larch Street on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, in Lansing.© Nick King/Lansing State Journal Timothy Hawkins warms himself by a fire at an encampment near Saginaw Highway and Larch Street on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, in Lansing.

It was not clear what enforcement action the city would take against people who refuse to leave the camp by Monday.

“We’re not anticipating pushback,” said Kim Coleman, Lansing’s director of human relations and community services. “We know that people want to be in a safe environment.”

Lansing’s code compliance office will be putting out signs Monday warning people not to stay at the camp, officials said. Coleman said, to her knowledge, Lansing is not planning to send police to break up the camp Monday.

More: Lansing-area homeless people face greater risks during coronavirus outbreak. Here’s how to help.

“We are not interested in criminalizing people who are without homes,” she said.

In a Dec. 9 statement, Lansing Mayor Andy Schor pointed to hazards at the camp including unsupervised fires, human waste and piles of trash.

“It’s my priority to get these individuals the assistance they need in accessing more livable conditions and obtaining resources before something tragic occurs,” the statement said. 

‘We’re just surviving:’ How a Lansing homeless encampment is coping with coronavirusa close up of Tommy Gainey wearing a hat: Daniel Strunk, pictured here on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, lives at a homeless encampment known as the "Back 40" in Lansing.© Nick King/Lansing State Journal Daniel Strunk, pictured here on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, lives at a homeless encampment known as the “Back 40” in Lansing.

Plan goes against CDC guidance

Lansing’s plans go against guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that warn against breaking up homeless camps during the COVID-19 pandemic when individual housing is not available. 

“Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers,” the guidance says. “This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

‘My people were struggling’: A 49-bed gym in Lansing opens as homeless shelter during coronavirusa couple of people that are standing in the grass: William File talks with former Lansing City Council Member Jody Washington on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 about plans to clean up the "Back 40" homeless encampment in Lansing.© Nick King/Lansing State Journal William File talks with former Lansing City Council Member Jody Washington on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 about plans to clean up the “Back 40” homeless encampment in Lansing.

Several leaders of organizations addressing homelessness, including Susan Cancro with Advent House Ministries and Mark Criss with the City Rescue of Lansing, have called the camp a safety hazard. Cancro said she worries about trash or a tent catching fire while residents sleep. In 2010, two men died after a fire consumed their makeshift shelter at a homeless encampment near the River Trail in Lansing Township.

Members of Lansing’s Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness team, a task force that includes people from local advocacy groups, will be visiting the camp Sunday to help people relocate, city officials said. 

More: LHC to break ground on nearly $29 million in low-income housing improvements

Advocates and city officials say there are beds available in local shelters, although that’s not equal to having “individual housing” as recommended by the CDC as a condition for breaking up homeless camps.

Dale expects some people will refuse to leave the Back 40.

“There’s no way to do that (clear the camp) without bodily removal,” Dale said. “It’s not going to be pretty.”

Contact reporter Sarah Lehr at slehr@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGLehr.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Lansing officials say people must leave Back 40 homeless camp by Monday