Homeless advocates press for action-D&C Article-November 19, 2014

Homeless advocates press for action
Brian Sharp, Staff writer

For the past week, 53-year-old Cornell Davis has slept in one of the dozen or so tents beneath Interstate 490 on the southern edge of downtown.

He arrived as the weather turned colder, as snow fell and overnight lows dipped into the teens. On Wednesday, he sat with a handful of others — among a homeless community of roughly two dozen — huddled around an old grill doubling as a fire pit, with a blanket spread over his legs.

And he listened, as activists pressed for action on finding a suitable shelter and advocated for a Homeless Bill of Rights, mirroring action in Illinois, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Sanctuary Village, as this gathering is called, is one of at least five or six encampments across the city, activists say. Many residents here used to find shelter in the Civic Center parking garage until that facility recently started locking its doors at night. This location off South Avenue, near the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge, was chosen as part of a resolution to a protest last month in which people camped in Washington Square Park.

The city insists there is shelter space for all, and has provided homeless advocates with a list of possible shelter sites.

Shelter capacity ebbs and flows, however. Some nights there aren’t beds available, so people are placed in hotels. And not everybody fits into the system. Some refuse curfews and rules, or don’t feel safe in areas where shelters are located, but activists say most are blocked by regulations and cannot be placed in a shelter.

For a time, Davis stayed with one friend or another but, unable to help with rent, he said he wore out his welcome. The encampment is not so bad, he said. Most here double up in the available tents and, with blankets, manage to stay warm. More blankets are needed. So is a portable toilet. More wood. And more tents, he said.