A regulatory, reality-based, trauma-informed and cost-effective approach to encampments that relies on working with encampment residents to address health, safety, and site management concerns through problem-solving, collaboration, and supported self-governance.
Faith communities, advocacy organizations, government entities, and non-profits partner with encampments to provide support related to health, safety, and site management. This includes providing or supporting residents with things like:
No. Shelter-in-Place does not discourage governments, organizations, and encampment residents from setting reasonable expectations related to cleanliness, acceptable behaviors, where encampments can be located etc. Rather, it moves us away from the practice of ineffective sweeps and pushes us to work together to find answers to questions like, “Are there ways to solve the problems associated with this encampment, instead of forcibly removing people as a first response?” and “Is there a better available place for people to go? ”
For most people, camping is not an ideal way to live. Understanding this, SiP recognizes that no location for an encampment will ever be “ideal”. SiP just pushes us to consider the question, “Can we think of a more ideal location for people to move to that would better meet immediate needs of the residents and the larger community?”, before the decision is made to remove an encampment.
The goal of using a SiP approach is to never use force to move encampment residents. If the location of an existing encampment is deemed too problematic, then the response using the SiP approach is to identify an alternative safe, legal, and appropriate location for residents to move to.
Our community has not yet reached a shared understanding of what constitutes “safe, legal, and appropriate,” alternatives for those living in unsanctioned encampments. Yet, it is our belief that if the alternatives being offered to those living in unsanctioned encampments are actually safe, legal, and appropriate for their needs, then people will want to access those alternatives voluntarily.
It will likely take years, even decades, for our communities to create and provide enough housing and indoor shelter options for all. Acknowledging this, we can expect that many of our community members will continue to survive outdoors for the foreseeable future. If there are no designated legal and appropriate places for people to shelter themselves, then people will continue surviving in “inappropriate” places without support.
Further, when people are forced to move without being provided with an appropriate and legal alternative, the most likely outcome is that those displaced will move to another location. This leads to energy and resources, which might otherwise be directed towards long-term solutions like creating affordable/supportive housing and filling gaps in existing social services, are used time and time again to move the same people from place to place. This is one of the many ways that NOT pursuing a SiP approach can often perpetuate and exacerbate the crisis of homelessness.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, SiP is based on many of the same principles and reasonings that make up the foundation of Housing First – an Evidence Based Best Practice for responding to homelessness. Housing First is a response to homelessness guided by the belief that people need basic necessities, like a stable place to live and rest, before attending to anything less critical like getting a job, budgeting properly, or addressing things like mental health and substance use challenges.
Similarly, designating legal and appropriate places for people to live outdoors means that people living unsheltered can still have a stable place to live and rest. This increased stability and the positive health and social impacts of having a reliable and consistent place to be can significantly improve people’s ability to access and sustain supportive services and to work on other goals related to improving their quality of life, health, and well-being.