Fort Worth says homeless will probably have to leave large camp

FORT WORTH -- People living in one of Fort Worth's largest homeless campsites will likely have to relocate after city code officers reported many violations there.

The development has church members who provide outreach at the camp worried that occupants will have to leave before they can find another place to stay.

City code officers responded Friday to complaints about a camp that has "mushroomed in size" at Riverside Drive and Lancaster Avenue and found about 50 tents pitched on a ridge, said Brandon Bennett, Fort Worth's code compliance director. They also found food and paper waste, as well as empty alcoholic beverage containers.

The camp is on private property, so officers contacted the owner, who said the campers did not have permission to be there.

Homeless people at the camp Monday said they were under the impression they had 10 days to leave. Bennett said that no deadline has been set but that the city could start issuing criminal trespass citations if the property owner wants the campers removed.

"You can't just build a camp on someone else's property," Bennett said.

Members of several churches who regularly deliver food and other supplies to the camp said that not giving the campers time to find new places to live will leave some with nowhere to go.

"You can't displace people that fast. People need time to figure out what to do," said James Buckley, who oversees ministry for the homeless at The Abbey Church in Fort Worth.

The campsite may be the largest in Fort Worth. There is a "kitchen tent" with two smokers where campers cook meals. In another tent, there are shelves holding cans of peas and corn, as well as crates of onions.

On Monday afternoon, several campers milled about, including a woman with a stroller and a young child.

Terry Waits Jr., 21, who said he has lived at the camp for two years, said the campsite started small but grew rapidly as "word on the street spread."

Waits acknowledged that trash is an issue, gesturing toward an overflowing trash barrel. But he said campers do their best to keep the camp clean and not cause problems.

"It's not a secret we've been up here," he said. "The police drive up here all the time to shine their lights and check on us. And now, suddenly, they want us gone."

Church groups involved with the campers will meet Thursday to help them relocate, said Rico Paredes, who is with a private outreach organization.

Otis Thornton, the city homelessness program director, said Fort Worth's homeless shelters have room to house the campers. Church groups supplying the camp are well-intentioned, he said, but the food and supplies the groups deliver are one reason the camp has grown.

Thornton encouraged organizations to get involved through partnerships with established homeless service organizations.

Alex Branch, 817-390-7689