Homelessness has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, but Darin Mann's yard in Utah has proven a safe haven during these tough times.
In the quiet neighborhood of Fairpark, Utah, is a strip of homes with modest yards. If you were to walk down through this neighborhood, you would spot homeowner Darin Mann's yard, which looks a little different from those of his neighbors'. Unlike theirs, his yard is home to a random group of tents. Mann, noticing the levels of homelessness in his area, has invited people experiencing homelessness to set up camp on his tidy third of an acre. They also use a bathroom in his house and volunteer at a community garden that Mann runs at a nearby public park, CNN reports.
"The goal is to de-stigmatize how people view homelessness," the homeowner said in an interview with the news outlet. "Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and helped when they need it." Mann opened up his yard, which has now been dubbed "Village Camp" to the homeless in mid-January this year. Presently, about 15 people stay there as residents. According to Mann, the residents came from other camps that were shut down in Salt Lake City, which is less than a five minutes' drive away. He stated, "We wanted to show that to solve this problem we have to address it as a community and not be afraid of it."
Mann also wished to display that the homeless were not simply freeloaders. Rather, the residents of Village Camp "pull their weight" within the community, particularly at the community garden the homeowner maintains. "They are helping me clean the garden and get it ready for the season," he said. "They keep the camp clean and are helping to be a positive example of working with unsheltered people." Unfortunately, not everyone share's Mann's enthusiasm about treating the homeless with dignity and kindness. Reportedly, his neighbors have filed complaints against his activism.
He has been served with a code violation (camping for more than two days on residential property is illegal here). He has thus been given a two-week notice to close down his camp. City officials have also received complaints about Village Camp. Despite this, Mann hopes to keep his camp for the homeless going. According to him, he has an "open line of communication" with his neighbors. Several of them cook food for the camp and donate clothing, while others have hired residents of the camp to work around their houses. The homeowner has also been strict about drug use and violent behavior: he has a zero-tolerance policy.
Even in light of the complaints, Village Camp residents claim that they feel welcome and safe in Mann's yard. "I don't have to deal with stress knowing I don't have to suddenly move," a man named Michael explained. "Being away from a lot of the bad influences has helped me quit some of the addictions I struggle with." Another resident, named Brandy, said they were grateful to Mann. She stated, "To him I was a stranger he saw a few times, but he took a chance and stepped up to the plate to help us."
While his Village Camp is a small start, Mann believes that the Salt Lake City government should do more for folks experiencing homelessness. Small homeless communities coupled with urban farming programs like his, in his opinion, could play an important role in solving the housing crisis. In hopes of surpassing the two-week notice and keeping Village Camp open, the homeowner has been meeting with high-level city officials. He also hopes to set an example for other ways to help society's most marginalized. He affirmed, "We hope that this new camp can be the genesis of something beautiful."