A group of volunteers calling themselves the Camp Alpha Project have been camped around Phoenix, Arizona for the last six weeks. The group says its goal is to “help homeless Veterans and Civilians in Phoenix by utilizing available resources.”
Fox 10 reported last month that Camp Alpha “started in October and keeps growing as it reaches out to get the vets off the streets one step at a time,” and that “the community and other veteran organizations have stepped up and dropped off tents, food, clothing, and supplies.”
Following complaints from neighbors, the city of Phoenix investigated the encampment and is pursuing a solution to relocate the camp. The Phoenix Neighborhood Services Department met with the organizers of Camp Alpha and has told the organizers they cannot stay at their current location.
“Those are complaints. That’s the challenge we’re up against. People in the neighborhood don’t know what we’re all about,” Camp Alpha’s Eric Smaltz told Fox10 in Phoenix. “They just see the encampment growing and wonder what’s going on and they apply a negative connotation to homeless people and encampments.”
12 News in Phoenix reported that city leaders say the “tent city” is violating city code. Aaron Pomrenke, who founded the camp back in October, told 12 News that the city had not communicated anything about a violation. Pomrenke previously told 12 News he started Camp Alpha as a way to give homeless veterans a safe place to sleep while also connecting them with much-needed services.
Moises Gallegos with Phoenix’s Human Services Department told Fox that the city cannot allow the camp to exist because “there are rules that say it’s not okay, it’s not legal. There are many others that would say if we’re going to let this be, why can’t we have tents and camps on every vacant lot, corner, anyplace people would want to do that.”
The city also told 12 News they support Camp Alpha’s goals “but it is an obvious code violation to set up a tent encampment in a vacant lot.” The city says they do not have a building for Camp Alpha but hopes they can “develop a plan for a solution.”
Interestingly enough, in early 2014 Phoenix was declared the first city to “end chronic homelessness among military veterans.” At the time, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton spoke with USA Today and said “the city went from 220 vets on the streets a couple of years ago to virtually none today.”
Despite Phoenix’s declaration of eliminating homelessness among veterans, there remains a multitude of veterans in need of support. Camp Alpha serves as a reminder of the unfortunate reality that the men and women who fight in the United States military often return home battling a number of ailments and are faced with failed bureaucracy and apathy.