Elkhart's 'Tent City' residents forced to pack up camp

Published: Aug. 31, 2016 at 6:32 PM EDT
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You could call it eviction day.

A group of homeless people in Elkhart has been asked to leave the place they call home. For the last time, residents of 'Tent City' packed up camp.

City officials gave residents just over a month to vacate the wooded area; Wednesday being the last day to do so.

The property has been on Mayor Tim Neese’s radar since he took office in January, calling it both a safety and health hazard to its residents and nearby pedestrian traffic.

“This has been their home but you can't live on public property,” said Mayor Tim Neese, Elkhart.

Tucked into the woods near sixth and Dr. King Dr., "NO TRESPASSING" signs now mark the area.

“It’s just not good to live in a woods,” said Neese.

Just four weeks ago, the property was crowded with homeless individuals; now, it sits quiet.

“There’s some safety and health concerns,” said Neese. “There are some wells. Some people have said they're as deep as six feet where individuals can fall into.”

Wednesday, only garbage, clothing and other personal possessions were strewn across the wooded area. Items seemingly left behind.

“I’m hopeful we are going to be able to remedy a situation that just hasn't been good for a couple of years,” said Neese.

Formerly owned and operated by the railroad, the area will be cleared for new developments.

The folks who were kicked out have several options. Faith Mission is one. Just down the street from ‘Tent City,’ the organization is starting its amnesty program early.

“This is specifically for those that are staying down in ‘Tent City’ that maybe haven't found alternative housing yet, so that they have a safe place during the evening to stay,” said Mike Perez, director of resource and development, Faith Mission.

It is also a place where folks can shower and have a free meal.

“I spoke with one gentleman on Sunday and he indicated it's tough to go to a job interview when you haven't had a shower,” said Neese.

“It’s very important for all of us to feel confident, when you're out, especially if you've been in a bad situation, to kind of get back on your feet,” said Perez.

Mayor Neese says at least 23 employers in Elkhart have shown interest in hiring former 'Tent City' residents. Anyone wishing to apply for employment through the city can call 574-294-5471.

He also says there's no set timeline for developing the area; however, there are currently two companies interested in purchasing the property.

Meantime overgrown brush will start to be cleared to make it look presentable and marketable.