SIERRA VISTA, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Ten days after the group Veterans on Patrol set up a camp in Sierra Vista, police showed up and told them they had two weeks to vacate the premises.
This is the third camp the group has set up in Arizona. The group has faced resistance in Phoenix and Tucson as well, but they were not prepared for this encounter.
The group of volunteers is dedicated to finding homeless veterans who have slipped through the cracks and face chronic homelessness.
Many of them are not even enrolled in the Veterans Administration program to get benefits.
Volunteers provide them with food, shelter, clothing as well as help them sign up for these benefits.
In some cases, they have been able to help homeless veterans find housing through government programs as well.
Lewis Arthur, the founder of Veterans on Patrol, said winning the trust of these veterans is the biggest challenge they have faced.
They use other homeless veterans as scouts, and they take their time to show the homeless veterans that there are no strings attached to get help.
"Sometimes it's taken me a month and half just to win the trust of one veteran," Arthur said.
The group operates with the help of volunteers and support from the community.
They moved onto state land located behind Walmart on Highway 90 in Sierra Vista in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve.
In the past 10 days, Arthur said they found 14 veterans camped in the desert. Most of them were Vietnam war veterans.
Arthur said they have been trying to fill in the gaps that government agencies and other non-profit groups are failing at, which is getting help to the most vulnerable veterans in the community.
Dennis Beck, an Air Force veteran who is a community organizer in Sierra Vista, said he did not realize the homeless problem they had in their community.
The group had been anticipating a meeting with the mayor and chief of police in Sierra Vista, but they were caught off guard when several police officers showed up at their camp on Monday, Jan. 4.
"The meeting was a bunch of police officers, and I'm not speaking bad about the police officers, they were outstanding, but it was them having to come up into this camp and scare everybody," Arthur said.
The group was then told to vacate the property within two weeks.
"I told them they're not going to shut me down," Arthur said.
A group of volunteers rounded up signs and flags, marched to city hall and demanded a meeting with Mayor Rick Mueller.
Mueller, who is a veteran and serves on the veteran's council, agreed to meet with the group, and seemed to like what they were doing, according to Arthur.
"He said he would be writing a letter to the state to request more time for us," Arthur said.
He added support from the Sierra Vista community has been overwhelming.
Donations are pouring into the camp, day and night.
They actually had to ask the community to stop bringing in donations, all they needed was firewood.
Tucson News Now was unable to get a hold of the Mueller for a comment on Monday night.