A Tourist in Tent City

36

April 12, 2013 by nateaddington

tent City

I have been a tourist in some of the greatest cities in the world. I’ve taken off centered pictures of famous landmarks and bought overpriced souvenirs in Paris, Rome, New York, Washington D.C., Brussels, and Athens. But yesterday I was a tourist in a new kind of city, an estranged subculture within an established community where the largest landmark was the patch work of tarps that served as a mess hall for the thirty some citizens, and whose only souvenir was the crumpled coffee cup I clutched in my hand.

About a month ago, I was told about a community of homeless people living near an overpass of US 30 in Wooster, OH (about 20 minutes East of my hometown of Ashland, OH). My reaction then was that they were misinformed, that it must be another “Wooster” in a different state. I knew we had some homeless in our area, but surely after 6 years in Ashland I would have known about a community of thirty individuals that were living practically in my back yard. I quickly put the thought out of my mind as something out of the reach of my influence or control.

I woke up yesterday morning, and, for some reason, the story reentered my mind. I did a bit of research once I got into the office, and, sure enough, there were many news articles and reports of the community, known as Tent City, all of which ended with updates in 2011. I was blown away, but also filled with so many questions. Why did the news coverage stop in 2011? Was Tent City still there? Where exactly was “there”? Should I go and see this for myself, and if yes, how was I going to find it?

After a bit more searching online I stumbled upon a single photograph posted on Flickr page of the founder/leader of Tent City, Roger.

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The owner of the flickr page, a local photographer, had his number listed, and I thought to myself, well why stop searching now? I gave Zed, the photographers online moniker, a phone call and he filled me in on the background of Tent City, it’s location, and most importantly confirmed that not only was it still there, but that it had grown substantially in the last few years.

Sometimes I think God puts an idea inside me, and when he does, I have this insatiable urge to complete that idea as soon as possible.  I knew I had to go and see Tent City for myself. Unsure of what the current needs and conditions were, a student and I hit the road after grabbing some cups and a gallon of coffee to share with whomever we might encounter.

After parking at a nearby Super 8 Motel, we made our way up the overpass and then over the guardrail and down a steep and muddy slope to what looked like a makeshift campground filled with old bicycles.

Tent City _bikePhoto courtesy of The Woostonian.

Most of the citizens of Tent City had made for warmer and dryer conditions that day, which largely consisted of the Wooster Public Library, referred to by the residents as the Crystal Cathedral. We were, however, able to to meet with four of the citizens. There was, Deanna, foul mouthed and jolly, she was the self proclaimed second in command, whose prominence seemed based entirely on her seniority. Not counting a few month long stays in the hospital for extreme frost bite and hypothermia, Deanna has been calling Tent City her home for 31 months. Then there was TJ, struggling to get back on his feet after being released from prison after four years, Rick, an air force veteran, and John, who remained quiet and aloof during our visit.

Deanna and TJ revealed to me the amazing constructs and regulations that governed their tribe of down and out-ers. The first rule was no drugs or alcohol within the city limits,  no exceptions. The second regulation, no begging.

As Deanna put it, “we are not solicitors and Roger doesn’t want us to be beggars and dependents. This is a mission for those who don’t have any place else to go, we want to get you back on your feet and out of here again.”

The final rule was that no one under 18 was allowed. As TJ looked around at the remnants of trash and the water from the creek that was rapidly rising from the previous days rains, he reminded us that this was “clearly, no place for children.”

Failure to keep to the rules was grounds for your exile from the city.

We stayed for about forty five minutes talking and sharing our coffee as we learned about the rich heritage of Tent City. We listened as Deanna told us about how Roger was sued by the city of Wooster and by the Ohio Department of Transportation in attempts to get the residents to move out. A fight which roger won. We chatted on ways their lives could be improved and the simple needs the residents struggled to supply themselves with.

As I reflected on our time spent as tourists in Tent City I can’t help but feel that we have failed these people. We have become, as my good friend P. Floyd would say, comfortably numb to them. Mark 14:7 reminds us that the poor will always be with us, but that is not a condition for perpetual neglect in a never ending battle, it is a comission to continual care for those who have been forgotten by so many.

I know that many will read this and think that the citizens of Tent City should simply pull them selves up by their bootstraps, that they should shape up and ship out. I suppose that in fundamental terms, at least, we can agree. This is no place for them, they don’t belong there. No one does. I have never visited a city that I hated more than this one. Not because of its citizens, but because what it represented, a failure on our part to take care of the most vulnerable among us.

Today is a new day in Tent City, but it is also a new day for me and for you. This morning, and every one after, we are given a fresh start and a clean slate. We are given the opportunity to  take notice of those around us that we have simply ignored or missed and to lift them up and restore to the the dignity and worth they so desperately deserve.

TentPhoto courtesy of The Woostonian.

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36 thoughts on “A Tourist in Tent City

  1. reinkat says:

    Interesting and timely. The homeless are all around us, some begging on the street corners, others trying to live inconspicuously in tent cities and quiet corners at the edge of town. We had a similar tent city in our town, some “unofficial” and another, larger one sprung up in response to the Occupy movement. All of them have eventually been forcefully shut down by municipal authorities after a while. They disperse, and re-form . . .
    thank you for bringing this issue to light once more.

    • Anonymous says:

      I lived in Wooster for nearly ten years. and there is a divide between the have and the have-nots or the rich and the very very poor. there is good in Wooster as well as bad. I love seeing the amish and the beautiful countryside. I always believe if I were to be homeless in Wooster I would go to the country and living in hiding or out of sight so police would not harass me or people would report me. these people have at least a place to reside, sleep and confide in others who are in the same situation. and, now the state wants to flush them out. yes, it should be clean, but at least there are rules and people must abide by them.

      they have nothing left, maybe this is keeping them going, when all they have is despair. they have nothing left to lose, let them keep their dignity….. take care… theresa

  2. david says:

    my name is david I was a person who was forced to live in tent city I was there for 7 months until I found a job wich was hard to do because I have a felony on my record salvation army would not take me and metro refused me because of this felony I had no place at all to go its very hard when u lose your income I have a home now and a job I help those people at tent city on a daily basis with food water clothing rides anything I can do within my means they was there for me when I needed them now I will do whatever I can to help the next person get on their feet

    • David, what a fantastic witness you are to the people there. God bless you and the work you do!!!

    • Anonymous says:

      David my name is Chris my church and I would like to deliver blankets for Christmas for all who live at tent city, I need to know how many are there so we can get everyone covered. Can u help me out and how can I reach u

      • david, I was just down there a about two weeks ago and there were about 16 people there. I know most have plans to try and move south for the winter to stay warm. If I remember correctly, in a conversation I had last year only about 8-10 actually stay for the entire winter.

  3. shanna says:

    I am a relative of “chief” roger and I can tell you it’s not what it’s been portrayed to you. Roger is not what he claims to be. The deanna you are talking about is a very well known drug user. They are right across the park and many sex offenders from tent city sit right in the park where children are! They all have been offered places to stay but have refused. They have tv’s dvd players and video games. Roger himself sits at her library with a brand new laptop. They rand on the side of the highway holding up signs begging for money even though most of them get disability checks every month. Read the daily. Record on them. I’m glad there are good Christian people willing to help but pls do it for people who are really struggling.

    • Stephanie says:

      Amen to that!

      • Anonymous says:

        Shana, you sound like part of he problem , you listen to the media’s version of what’s going on and Logically dismiss theses people as freeloaders. You must be one of the have’s, cause if you had not…you could use that thing God gave you called a heart to have some empathy for those who ARE TRULY in need
        !

      • Anonymous says:

        Shanna knows! I know 2 ppl who have stayed in Tent City. One who got benefits. Stayed in Hotels drank his benefits away, Spent the rest of the month in tent city waiting for his next check so he could do the same unproductive thing over again. Both men I know were convicted of Sexual crimes involving children. I only know these 2 but when it comes to helping others, I chose to help those who at least try to help themselves.

      • anonymous says:

        Shana is correct I know some of the people there personally and what she says is fact not a media infraction . I understand that there are homeless all over this country and this should not be acceptable. There are some people that with help can get on there feet and want to but there are some who are drug users and pedophiles and do not truly want better. The best anyone can do sometimes is offer treatment for users and truthfully I could care less if pedophiles starve or freeze to death.

  4. Discouraged by this. says:

    I for one feel tent city would be better off raised to the ground. As a person who knows some of the residents I say flee, and keep your young girls and boys away. The Heros you portrayed in your article are criminals. Tj got out of jail from raping a 15 yr old girl. And Deanna is a drunk and drug addict. Neither one are willing to try to change their situation. The author of this article should have maybe researched the back grounds of some of the residents before starting a pity party for them. Granted some land there by accident. Most do everything in their power to get themselves there. There are plenty of jobs out there, granted they aren’t great. But these people act as if they are to good to work for minium wage. And use every bit of that money to feed and house thierselves. But that’s what I do. I never have a single dime from my last paycheck when I get to the next. But I still get up in the morning and go to my job. Because that’s what you have to do! It’s good to want to help the less fortunate. But please make sure your helping out people who at least try in life. Not ones who will just take what you give them and sell it for their next drunk or drug bender. Like these tent city residents. So again I say. Let tent city be raised to the ground by the hand of the almighty.

    • christian says:

      agree, this is the best response yet. There are many many options for those wanting to get back on their feet. For those staying there (witnessed her begging on the rt 30 bypass) for over 2 yrs, this is not trying to help yourself

    • Discouraged by this,

      Thanks for the reply, I think if I had to respond to your objections I would say this. I’m not sure that you are seeing the overall message of what I am trying to convey here.

      We can sit back and debate on ways to alleviate poverty, and whose responsibility it is to take action in these kind of circumstances. We can talk about the ability to assign dignity to someone after they have committed horrible crimes or become an addict, but the main message I hoped the post would portray is that we need to be more aware of the circumstances of others around us.

      I’m sure you would agree we could all benefit from having more empathy. Thanks again for the reply.

      • Anonymous says:

        agree

      • Faith says:

        absolutely agree with you! Some people do horrible things or commit horrible crimes. It is not up to us to pass judgement, that’s God’s job. Most people probably have a thing or two they are not proud of that they have done. Some people are probably content being here and some are not. So whose responsibility is it to put the scarlet letter on these people for eternity and why do people feel the need to punish all because of a few. As a community, we are only as strong as our weakest. I have lived in Wayne County my whole life. There is a huge divide between the very wealthy and very poor in Wayne county. Entitlement runs within both of these spectrum’s but you only hear the nay sayers complain about the poorest. Great Article!

  5. K-Stubs says:

    Now I’ve only lived in this area a few years but it hasn’t taken me long to realize how many white bread morons are around here in the buckle of the bible belt. These people want absolutely nothing from you so why not leave them alone instead of making yourself feel superior because you live in a place different from them. You sit there and brag how hard you work paycheck to paycheck and that you’re somehow better off, you live where you want to live as do they. They just don’t go off spouting off at the mouth about it. So just leave them alone. And for the geniuses who say there’s child molesters by the park, how about you do the simple task of an internet search for sex offenders in the area, there’s quite a few and not all of them happen to live in tent city but you’re stupid enough to think only the child molesters are the ones combing the playground. Well there genius every child molester, no matter where they live is going to be combing the playground. We’re all of a bunch of nobodies, in a nowhere town in the US. If they want to live there none of us are important enough to tell them any different.

    • Anonymous says:

      Really? They want nothing from us? That place is disgusting. They pee in the creek or on the edge. THERE are plenty of people under age 18 that stay there from time to time. It smells. There are plenty of drugs and alcohol present.
      As a resident of Wooster, I hate seeing this on my daily drive. These people have been offered help in many ways, yet they choose to turn it down. It’s not a pride thing. It’s “roger” trying to milk more press out of this. He is no more Indian than I am!
      The city needs to grow some cojones and raze the site. RAZE it. I am tired of this eyesore and tired if reading about it or seeing it on news. Come on people. These folks are just creating their own drama about this place. I for one think its BS that they go hang at the library. If I were the owner of a business in that area. There is no chance I would let them come use my bathroom.
      People, I am a Christian, I understand they are down on their luck, but, I am NOT going to give them anything I have earned. I got a job to put a roof over my head, maybe they should do the same

      • Anonymous says:

        A Christian?
        But for the grace of God go I.
        The lack of compassion is evident & saddens me greatly. Perhaps some should focus on gratitude for what they have instead of condemnation for those who don’t.

  6. MJB says:

    I believe this article, while good intentioned, failed to mention all of the wonderful assistance offerings provided to people in the Wooster Community who are in need and willing to accept help. Dozen of churches offer weekly meals, food and clothing banks, eduation programs and community to those who need it. Whiel the fight against proverty is never done in any city, many people in the Wooster community have taken “the opportunity to take notice of those around us.”

    • MJB, Thanks for the reply. I am going to agree with you 100%. I think, as I look back on this article, it was more of a personal conviction of my own short sightedness than a outgoing condemnation of the city or those within it.

      Since writing this article I have taken over some ministry responsibilities within the city and have seen first hand many of the outreach opportunities available and the many loving volunteers who devote so much time to helping those in need. Thanks again for the reply.

  7. Foster mom says:

    I am speaking for the CHILDREN my friends and I have personally cared for from “Tent City”. Yes, there are children living there from time to time (children of all ages!). That place is evil. That’s all I can say. God is my witness!!!

  8. So….I wrote this article about 8 months ago, but I have had over 3,000 hits on it in the last week. Mind if I ask why you all are finding it now? Thanks!

    • Anonymous says:

      I read it in Facebook today. I lived in Wooster for about 10 years and honestly knew nothing of this tent city. There are “tent cities” all over the country, not just in Wooster. Many of the “Christians” commenting here seem to have forgotten one important rule to being a Christian! We are not to judge, that is god’s responsibility. We are supposed to love all of gods creatures, no matter their race, creed, religion or amount of wealth. People, especially Christians, seem to always forget that, when it’s convenient for them. Also bugging me, why are there so many “anonymous” posts? I’m not signed up as a member, but I sure won’t hesitate to sign my name.
      Jack Davenport, former citizen of Wooster, Ohio.

      • Jack,

        Thanks for the reply. Might I pry a bit further and ask where you saw it on Facebook? DId a friend share it, etc, etc?

        I’m right with you on the not judging part. Some of the comments have been, shall we say, a bit rigged? Prayers for open minds and soft hearts are the best we can do I suppose. God Bless.

        -Nate

      • Janice Gard says:

        Your article is being shared on Facebook. I don’t know who started the sharing but I saw it when it was shared by a friend of mine who had shared it from another friend. (clear as mud?)

        Although someone from our church has visited tent city a few times and reported on the conditions he found there (and our church has donated warm clothing and other items), I don’t personally know enough about the situation to comment one way or the other.

        However I would like to comment briefly on something that really bothers me. Rudeness has become the norm for so many when commenting on ANYTHING on line. Surely it is possible to disagree with someone or present information that may not have been known to others without name calling and nasty comments. Janice Gard

    • Faith says:

      Saw this on FaceBook. A friend shared it!

  9. Bob titus says:

    We serve and help those that are less fortunate then we are because we are commander to do so. Christ calls us to feed the poor and needy. Its not for us to judge and withhold blessings that God has put before us. I have worked with homeless people in downtown Akron for 10 years now. Most are mentally challenged, yes from drug and addictions but some form the hands of mothers and fathers. Sexual abuse from aunts and uncles. Lets love them and care for them because we are all just a few mistakes from being in a tent city ourselves. If you are interested in helping Akron we meet every Monday night at Zion Lutheran Church from 6:30-8:30 Lets all be a blessing to those in need.

    • Melissa Webb says:

      I also agree, that if you have nothing nice to say then say nothing at all. I read one comment saying that these people needed to get a job and help themselves, however I am sure that most people who are in this position do try to find a job however, without an address or valid drivers license this is hard even for a person with an address and license. It is not our job to judge, God will do that. It is our job to help others in need. I have worked for everything I have and am always helping others when I can.

  10. Luke 15 says:

    Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear him. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
    So Jesus told them this parable: “Which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go look for the one that is lost until he finds it? Then when he has found it, he places it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Returning home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.’ I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.
    “Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search thoroughly until she finds it? Then when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”
    Then Jesus said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that will belong to me.’ So he divided his assets between them. After a few days, the younger son gathered together all he had and left on a journey to a distant country, and there he squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle. Then after he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and worked for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He was longing to eat the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. But when he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food enough to spare, but here I am dying from hunger! I will get up and go to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired workers.”’
    So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him. Then his son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Hurry! Bring the best robe, and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Bring the fattened calf and kill it! Let us eat and celebrate, because this son of mine was dead, and is alive again—he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.
    “Now his older son was in the field. As he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the slaves and asked what was happening. The slave replied, ‘Your brother has returned, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got his son back safe and sound.’ But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him, but he answered his father, ‘Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.’”

  11. Ron says:

    Matthew 5:43-47 Mathew 6:14,15 from the Sermon on the Mount

  12. Anonymous says:

    I am up at 2:00 am and reading all of these replies. We drove past Tent City today, and I have been up praying for the residents. I so agree that any one of us could find ourselves homeless, given the right set of circumstances. I would like to join those who are doing something to help, and I commend them for doing so. Is there an easier way than climbing a hill and going over a guard rail in order to reach them? No matter what it was that got them there, or what it is that keeps them there, God loves the residebts of Tent City. We are his hands, his hear and his feet. As God has enabled and provided for us, may we do likewise and help them. On this cold night, I will crawl into a warm bed in a warm house. Shame on me if I turn my back on those who are sleeping in tents just a few miles away. I do not condemn them, yet I understand and sympathize with those who are not comfortable with this situation in their community. May we all work together to find a solution that will benefit everyone.

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