HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – On Friday, the city of Huntsville took action to close the Derrick Street North homeless camp. The camp, located on a piece of land near the I-565 and Memorial Parkway interchange in Huntsville, has been there for more than five years.
“Everybody is just sad about leaving,” said a resident of the Derrick Street camp. “They’re just trying to find a place to relocate to, you know what I’m saying. It’s hard out here for us.”
At the beginning of April, the city gave notice to the people living at the Derrick Street camp, saying they would need to vacate the property.
At 9:30 a.m. on Friday, the city put up several ‘no loitering’ and surveillance signs, sending a clear message to residents. At 11:00 a.m., the city’s deadline passed. By 5:00 p.m., several people remained on the property, and the city had not taken further action to remove them.
“We’re not in the business to go find every homeless camp and close it,” said Huntsville Manager of Community Development Scott Erwin. “We are in the business of trying to find solutions for someone who is unsheltered, who needs opportunities for housing.”
Erwin said the city has moved to close the Derrick Street camp because of several safety concerns.
“We’ve got a lot of issues with this camp from a public health perspective,” Erwin said. “We’ve had falling trees, explosions, Hepatitis A outbreaks. We’ve had a rodent infestation and a lot of unsafe conditions. We’ve been working for the past few months working to find individualized solutions for the individuals that are unsheltered.”
The stretch of land that includes the Derrick Street North camp also has mixed ownership, both public and private, and Erwin said the private owner hopes to use the land.
“Our objective is to ultimately get everyone into an independent unit when they are capable of sustaining that independent unit,” Erwin said.
Local advocates said the city does not offer enough housing alternatives for the people living in camps.
“Right now, it’s impossible to end homelessness when there is no housing to put people into,” said Love Huntsville Executive Director Emma Steelman. “Services are great, but when you can’t graduate someone into a house, it stops a lot of progress from being made.”
Love Huntsville is a local advocacy group, committed to ending homelessness and intergenerational poverty in the city of Huntsville. In June, the group partnered with several other organizations, including Vote Huntsville, Alabama Arise, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, to send a letter to the city of Huntsville, urging city leaders to stop the closure of the Derrick Street camp.
In the letter, advocates said existing problems involving mental health or physical disabilities can be worsened when homeless communities are uprooted.
“The city has evicted over seven camps since last spring, which is really destabilizing for the community, so we have followed a lot of these folks around from other camps,” Steelman said.
The move-out process at Derrick Street camp has been ongoing for several weeks, and much of the work has been done by Love Huntsville volunteers and other local advocates. They helped residents pack up their belongings in trucks and relocate to other parts of the city. Steelman said many of the people living at the Derrick Street camp moved to other camps in the city.
“For many people, this has become their home, and they like the outdoors and the freedom of it,” said First Stop Executive Director Jennifer Geist. “We can’t help someone if they don’t want our help, but one thing for us is we will never give up on somebody.”