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Ann Arbor church cancels plans for summer homeless camp

Kate Wells
Michigan Radio

Trinity Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor announced it will not put a temporary homeless camp on its' property this summer.

The pastor, Rev. Lori Carey, says they can't get insurance for it this year.

"We were exploring the possibility of putting up a tent encampment on our property as a way of providing a temporary solution, just for three months, as a pilot project that maybe other faith communities would like to join, as a way of bringing people out from the underpasses and out of the woods and such," says Carey.

But at an information meeting Sunday, many neighbors said they're furious the church is still considering doing it in future.

Gloria Beth says her property is right next to Trinity Lutheran.

"If they want to do good, take these people home to their yards, to their homes!" says Beth, crying. She says members of her family have been homeless, but she feels the church's proposal is unfair to neighbors. "Don't put that on us, when we worked so hard to do better!" 

Church representatives told the crowd that they had never wanted to do the tent camp if neighbors weren't on board. But some neighbors said they felt the information meeting had been put together at the last minute and that the community had only been asked to weigh in as an afterthought.

The meeting was interrupted several times by shouts like, "What about crime and rape! or "Are you excited for your property values to drop?"

Several residents said they were just uncomfortable about the whole thing - the camp idea, yes, but also the neighbor's anger.

"I feel like there was a lot of anger maybe directed at the church that isn't fair," says Elizabeth Nelson, who works for the church and also lives next door. "Because this church is full of a lot of really well-meaning people who really want to do the right thing. But at the same time, yeah, I don't want a tent city in my backyard! And that's hard too."

Besides worries about property values or crime, a lot of the concern came from parents who described their fenceless backyard that back right onto church property. Kids play in that wooded area all summer long, several said.

"I think the emotion comes in when we think about risk," says neighbor Paul Kushmaul. "But we really need to focus on what are the factors that are causing that? So we have families that are living and playing in this neighborhood, and God forbid something go wrong."

Pastor Lori Carey says she's not sure what happens now.  

"This is obviously a fearful thing for neighbors and I really regret that," she says.  "And I'm sure our process could have been better in terms of drawing them in and helping us brainstorm this.

As far as whether they'll consider trying the camp idea another year, "I would say there may be possibilities," says Carey.

"This is a remedy for an immediate need, but it's not a solution, right? The solution is more permanent housing. And a number of people in the congregation would really like to work towards a solution that would make [that] possible," she said.  


Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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