Champaign’s tent cities cause controversy

A self-governed tent community aimed at coping with the lack of low-income housing in Champaign is causing controversy among Champaign citizens.

A self-governed tent community aimed at coping with the lack of low-income housing in Champaign is causing controversy among Champaign citizens.

The community, called Safe Haven, is located in Champaign on S. Randolph Street in the Catholic Worker House’s backyard. Approximately eight homeless people have lived in the tent community for about a month.

Many residential neighbors are unhappy with the recent addition to the community.

Despite Safe Haven’s rules prohibiting the consumption of alcohol or use of drugs, neighbors say that there have been disturbances, some involving substance abuse.

The community has sympathy for the less fortunate, but cannot tolerate feeling unsafe, said Cristina Savvas, a Champaign resident who lives adjacent to the community.

“I also feel like I’m being victimized when I’m afraid to go to my front door at night,” Savvas said.

These neighbors may be accusing the wrong party, however. Many people gather at the Catholic Worker House for free meals, but are not part of Safe Haven, said Conrad Wetzel, Champaign resident.

“I would encourage the neighbors to get to know the people that live in Safe Haven,” he added.

The problems may also stem from a lack of communication.

“I think the biggest thing is neighbors communicating to us what the problems are before they call the police,” said Kenny Bishop, residential volunteer at the Catholic Worker House.

“It’s all just speculation,” he added.

Despite the neighbors complaints, members of Safe Haven insist that they live in a strictly substance free community.

“There is no drug or alcohol use,” said Jesse Masengale, member of Safe Haven.

“Quiet time for Safe Haven is ten o’clock,” he added.

The neighbors, community and city council have yet to reach a resolution. The city council is planning a community meeting for further discussion.