Timothy Morgan’s story shows the evolution of Camp Hope.
Last summer, at the height of a crushing heat wave, Timothy Morgan was putting out fires at Camp Hope. Triple digit heat had people on edge and Morgan was the go-to security staff for conflict resolution as residents fumed over rampant theft in the camp.
As summer faded into fall, and temperatures and tensions at Camp Hope slowly but steadily fell, Morgan’s work evolved. In late October, he left his job working security for Crowd Management Services (CMS) and joined Revive Counseling as a peer counselor and housing support specialist. Revive provides counseling, peer support and housing services at both Camp Hope and the Trent Shelter. Morgan’s story follows the evolution of the encampment from a chaotic environment where staff and volunteers were just trying to keep people alive, to a launching point for people exiting homelessness.
Camp Hope isn’t the teeming city block of endless commotion and kinetic energy it once was. Things are more orderly now. The population has fallen from above 600 to around 100 people. As RVs and tons of garbage are removed from the lot, the perimeter fences have steadily shrunk. And even with less space, there’s more room between tents and RVs. New security protocols check people coming and going to make sure they belong in the camp. The large cooling tent that was hurriedly built to provide shelter from the heat last summer is now a hub for resources where meals, clothes, medical care and case management are all offered.
Morgan originally began working at the camp because he felt like he had something to offer to the people living there. “I was driving by, I saw a guy in a blue and white shirt and I wanted to know what he was doing. I stopped and talked to him and he was a security guard for CMS,” Morgan told RANGE last summer. “I joined CMS to become security for [Camp Hope] specifically, because I thought it would benefit the city and these people the most.”
Morgan believed he could help because he’d been where those camp residents were. “I've lived that life. I've been homeless. I've been without. I've slept in my car. I've done it,” Morgan said. “I've been through rough-ended situations that didn't seem like they had an end or a way out.”
Over the course of his time working security, Morgan said he was able to gain the trust of people living in the encampment. He said it wasn’t always easy, and that at moments there was friction, “but, slowly it's been coming together and I've gained a lot of respect from a lot of people.”
Today, Morgan isn’t busting up fights or tracking down stolen goods. In his new role with Revive, he’s helping people find permanent places to live in the greater Spokane community. Morgan’s consistent, on-the-ground presence at the encampment has given him a unique perspective on how the community has changed and services offered at the camp have evolved. This week, RANGE caught up with Morgan to learn more about how his work and the camp itself has changed.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
RANGE: How has your experience changed now that you’re working with Revive instead of working security for CMS?
Timothy Morgan: It's definitely been a mind-altering circumstance for me moving from being with CMS, and being the one who puts out the fires and eliminates the arguments or the threats of guns, drugs, violence what have you — to being on the opposite end of that, not being so concerned about that as much as I am towards getting them housed, making sure they have a friend, a warm meal, somebody they could talk to, and establishing communication and a way towards permanent housing goals.
It's insane the difference and the duties that I have from then ‘til now. There's a lot more paperwork behind it now, but… for me it’s better to be out here on the field trying to help them gain permanent housing, gain permanent employment, and move forward with their life than it was for me just to watch and provide for their safety.
We're all growing in this. It's teaching us [all] a lot. I get a lot of fulfillment being out here. I get that fulfillment of being able to see them even one step higher in their process. I think there's a lot of self-gratification and gratification in the people that I'm working with.
RANGE: Where are people going as they move on from the encampment?
TM: We're doing amazing things. We're actually opening up a new home. I think it's going to be on Monday.
It'll hold eight men and we're going to open up another couple's home, hopefully by the end of the month. Our numbers are dwindling to down under 100 people here.
I think we have anywhere between eight and 15 move-ins this week just to the Catalyst [Catholic Charities transitional housing project in West Hills] alone. Come Monday, we'll have the move-ins into the men's home.
The weather's warming up. People are really wanting to start getting up and motivated and moving towards getting out of here.
RANGE: What is the main focus of your work now?
TM: Obviously our main goal is to get people out of the encampment — that is our primary goal. Whether they go to Catalyst, whether to go to the Trent shelter and work with one of our housing or employment specialists down there… our ultimate goal is to get people out of here and motivated enough to get into a more stable environment.
If they're at Catalyst, if they're at the Trent Shelter, if they're in transitional homes, they're a lot easier and a lot more motivated to work with because they feel a lot more comfortable — they're cleaner, they have warmth, they're not as agitated, they're not as agro.
It does promote a lot more stability as far as getting them into the next step of housing.
RANGE: What are the challenges facing the people still living at the camp?
TM: One is warrants. I've gotten four warrants squashed this week. That means taking people down to get warrants recalled and get new court dates set up.
It’s unnerving for the people inside the camp, because they're the ones who have to go through the hardest part, which is being accountable. We take them down, we go stand in front of the counter and it takes about 15 minutes. They stipulate on paper the reason why they missed the court date, whether it's because of the fact they live in camp and didn't have proper transportation during the time, or weren’t well. For most people it's as simple as that, just showing up.
There are more serious things like failing to provide a new address change due to being on a sex offense charge. Those are a little more trying, but we [try to help them] as well.
RANGE: Do you think that everybody will be able to get housed some way or another?
TM: Some of the people still here [have chosen not to engage] in services with CAT (Compassionate Addiction Treatment), with Jewels (Helping Hands) and with Revive due to whatever circumstances they may have.
I would like to call it institutionalization, but instead of it being in an institution format, it's institutionalization based upon housing. They've been homeless for so long that they don't know anything else. They don't feel comfortable with anything else. They don't want anything else.
So, there is a big, fundamental part of that within this group. A majority of the rest [of impediments to housing] have to do with the charges they're facing, whether they're running away from warrants or whether they have sex offenses. That's a priority to deal with, but it's also the hardest group to deal with because of the fact that based on the social environment and the standards that we have in our society, they're the hardest people to house because they come with the most challenges.
I think that at the end of this, we're going to have our select few that just no matter what you do, they don't want it. It's just not part of who they are as an individual anymore. And we're going to have to succumb to the fact that that is part of the end game. We're going to have those individuals who are going to be like that, and … they're just going to have to move down the road because it's what they want.
So, there are going to be those people and I think we're looking at probably — I don't know — 40 of them or so. But, we'll see what happens. I think a big part of it is just being able to engage and let them feel safe with the fact that somebody's here for them. And, maybe we can drop that number to zero. Who knows? Only time will tell.
We are looking towards reunification into society with every single individual in here and if we can create that — absolutely fucking amazing. Sorry for the language. If we can't, we'll continue working with them and continuing to strive for success for every individual that remains in this camp.
RANGE: What are your overall thoughts on how this camp and community has evolved?
TM: From the beginning when this place was nothing but 55 people trying to prove a point to what it turned into over summer and the violent acts and the renegades and nobody having laws and being a lawless community — to where it is now, where there's reform, there's fences, check-ins, badges, we're dwindling to the end of it. It's definitely been an interesting concept to watch from the beginning to the end and seeing how it's turned out.
I don't hold any regrets for anything that's happened because it's been a learning process.
I think as long as we remember that when we work together, there's nothing that Spokane can't do. I don't think we'll ever do away with homelessness in its entirety ever, because you're always going to have somebody who falls into homelessness. But we can manage it.