Confident that it has demonstrated a legal campground for homeless people can benefit the community, Placerville-based Hangtown Haven Inc. is looking to move its operation to a site on county-owned land west of town.
Art Edwards, president of the nonprofit organization, said Hangtown Haven will present a request to the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors on July 23 to lease - for a nominal fee - an approximately 1-acre parcel on Perks Court, south of Highway 50 and east of Missouri Flat Road.
The move is necessary because of safety concerns at the current site on private property in the 1600 block of Broadway, which is too close to the heavily traveled Placerville thoroughfare, Edwards said. The special use permit the city granted for the pilot project expires in November.
Edwards and other supporters say they hope the success of the Placerville campground, which opened last summer and is home to 30 people, will help persuade county officials to approve the new location.
"We're not asking for any money from the county," Edwards said. "We're just asking them to lease the property to us."
Supported entirely by private donations, Hangtown Haven seeks a permanent site where it can begin the transition from tent camping to a complex of two-person "microhouses." The 8-foot-by-12-foot prefabricated structures were designed by local builder Mark Murray. Murray supplies the parts, and homeless people can assemble the units on site, Edwards said.
Each dwelling costs about $2,500 and features two bunk beds, a desk, small dresser and clothes closet. The microhouses would have neither water nor electricity, but utilities would be available in a common area, which would feature a steel community building and covered outdoor gathering area, as well as portable showers and toilets.
Plans call for fencing that would screen the campground from the view of area residents and Highway 50 motorists, Edwards said.
The microhouses are to be added as funding is available. Those who occupy the units will be required to have a full-time or part-time job and to pay monthly rent based on a percentage of their income.
This is consistent with Hangtown Haven's goal of helping people become self-supporting so they can afford permanent living quarters.
"Hangtown Haven works because it's not a free-for-all," said Placerville Mayor Wendy Thomas, whom Edwards credits for making the vision of a legal campground a reality. "It's not a dumping ground for the homeless."
Thomas, who owns property in Placerville's Broadway commercial district and operated a business there for 17 years, said she was keenly aware of the effect the homeless population had on businesses and residents in the area.
As a council member, she said she was determined to find a solution. The campground is intended as a "place for people to reset their lives," Thomas said.
It gives them a place to stay during the day, without worrying about where they're going to spend the night, she said. They are expected to help maintain the campground and to use it as a base to launch job searches.
The goal is to help people land jobs and find a place to live within six months. Edwards points to half a dozen people who have found employment in the past couple of months.
The proposed Perks Court site, he said, has the advantage of being close to commercial centers that offer job opportunities.
The Placerville campsite has been limited to people who can show proof that they have resided in the city for at least six months. A site in the unincorporated area would be open to people from throughout the county.
Thomas said Placerville has coupled the legal campground with strong enforcement to prevent illegal camping.
"Placerville has taken a hard stand that Hangtown Haven is our solution," Thomas said.
Edwards said he has been contacted by people from throughout the state and as far away as Texas who are interested in developing similar programs in their communities.
Thomas credited the Placerville City Council, Police Department, local churches and other groups serving homeless people with Hangtown Haven's success. Churches delivering food agreed to make the campground their point of service rather than nearby Lumsden Park, which had been a gathering spot for homeless people, to the distress of area residents.
With the opening of Hangtown Haven, "we pressed the reset button on the park as well," Thomas said.
Lumsden Park was closed for six months while the lawn was reseeded and restrooms were repaired. As a result, she said, area residents have told her they feel the park is a safer place.
Thomas cited that turnaround as part of her argument to secure a new location for Hangtown Haven.
"This is not a conceptual, theoretical model," she said. "This is a proven model."
Call The Bee's Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.