I wanted to clarify a misconception in the current conversation about the latest plans for the city’s free camping zone. Like many residents, I was under the impression that the people living in the semi-authorized campground were the same people I saw passed out every day in the city’s parks.
However, after visiting the campers in their ad hoc camp at Escalante Middle School and talking to them for a few hours, I see that the camp is really a separate population. Many of the people living in the camp work full-time jobs in town; they cook their own meals together and they organize trash collection and fire mitigation. They aren’t all necessarily model citizens but they aren’t a threat.
It feels more like a big river trip than a den of criminals. The people are approachable and in some cases, hospitable. I realized that whether or not you support the city’s efforts to create a space for them, I think that it’s important to not paint these campers as chronically drunk or disruptive beggars.
The fact that there are people in that category in our parks and streets makes it easy to lump them all together, but the two populations are distinct, and they require different policy discussions.