TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The City of Tucson is shutting down a longtime homeless camp for veterans.
“It’s everything to them. It’s their home, it’s their family, it’s there safe place,” said Addie Mendonca, who has been running Camp Conklin at Bravo Base for about two years.
The city notified Camp Bravo that the property would need to be vacated in 72 hours on Thursday. The action came after a zoning violation plea agreed to by the property owner was approved by the court on Wednesday.
Mendonca said the City’s Homeless Outreach Teams have been working at the site to connect the homeless to housing and services, if they would like it. As of Saturday evening, nearly all of the 42 people who had been living at the camp had housing to transition to.
Rick Elliot is one of the men who has yet to figure out where he will be sleeping Sunday night.
“Just going to take things one day at a time, and hopefully things will work out," said Elliot, who has been living at the camp for about four months after hitting hard times.
“It’s a sense of family and belonging," said Elliot. “You know, when I was in here, while I’ve been here, I don’t even feel like I’m homeless.”
“It’s been home," said Rodney Stiennon, who has called Camp Conklin home for about six months. Mendonca said when Steinnon first arrived, he was using in a walker. Saturday, he was walking around on his own collecting wood for the fire.
“Well, I’ve had three stepmothers, ten stepfathers and two foster homes, so this is family," said Stiennon.
“Around this fire, they were all equal," said Mendonca. "There wasn’t veterans and civilians, there wasn’t drug addicts and alcoholics, they were just humans trying to better themselves, trying to come together to see where they could go.”
In an email to Tucson News Now about the decision to close the camp, spokesman Andy Squire wrote:
“The Mayor and Council share that great compassion and have spent years of time working with community partners to find solutions and provide connections to housing and services for those homeless residents that desired them in order to transition out of homelessness. That this camp was started on private property, was very small when it started, and we are cautious and cognizant of people’s rights on their property - we don’t want to trample them - and this really seemed to begin as a good faith effort to help others in our community that grew into something very different over time.”
“I don’t know how many lives we’ve touched in the last two, three years that we’ve been here. But I can tell you that it’s been a lot," said Mendonca.
Mendonca and other volunteers spent Sunday evening packing up the camp so supplies like cots, blankets, clothing and medication could be sent to area organizations and churches. She said they are also packing food boxes and will have a Thanksgiving meal Sunday at noon. The camp must be vacated by 4 p.m.
While cleaning the site, the city said code enforcement, police and the property owner will work together to address the life, healthy and safety issues that exist in the area.
Transportation will also be provided to the residents from the camp to new housing.