You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Trapp opens homeless car camp for Columbia as city money goes wanting

Columbia Daily Tribune logo Columbia Daily Tribune 4/18/2020 By Clare Roth Columbia Daily Tribune
a group of people standing in a parking lot: Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp,flanked by Brian Page, left, and Fiona Draco, right, speaks about the need to help the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trapp and others have organized a monitored camp on Paris Road to help unsheltered people find support. [Rudi Keller/Tribune] © Provided by Columbia Daily Tribune Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp,flanked by Brian Page, left, and Fiona Draco, right, speaks about the need to help the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trapp and others have organized a monitored camp on Paris Road to help unsheltered people find support. [Rudi Keller/Tribune]

Second Ward city councilman Mike Trapp and his brother John officially opened a car camp Saturday, their third attempt in three weeks to shelter the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mike Trapp held a press conference outside a building donated for their use at 2105 Paris Road, announcing the camp's opening a day after the city received no applications for a request for proposals to pay for a city-sanctioned camp.

a woman standing in front of a brick building: Fiona Draco, program coorindator, speaks during a news conference about a monitored camp for the homeless being established on Paris Road. [Rudi Keller/Tribune] © Provided by Columbia Daily Tribune Fiona Draco, program coorindator, speaks during a news conference about a monitored camp for the homeless being established on Paris Road. [Rudi Keller/Tribune]

Proposals were due by 5 p.m. Friday and none were received, according to city spokesman Steven Sapp.

Trapp's car camp has been open for most of the week, hosting around seven cars per night, he said, and has a capacity of up to 100 cars.

Trapp said he and his brother, who run the for-profit company AAAAChange, LLC, chose not to apply for the city's RFP because it would be a conflict of interest and they believe in a mutual aid structure where the camp's residents are involved in running it, rather than the camp being run from the "top down."

a group of people standing in a parking lot: Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp speaks at a Saturday news confefence to discuss a monitored homeless camp. The reporters are spaced apart as part of social distrancing. [Rudi Keller/Tribune] © Provided by Columbia Daily Tribune Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp speaks at a Saturday news confefence to discuss a monitored homeless camp. The reporters are spaced apart as part of social distrancing. [Rudi Keller/Tribune]

"We are a self-help mutual aid organization in the recovery community and in the anarchist community," Trapp said.

The city's contract proposal offered financing for a 70-spot campsite for the city's unsheltered population, along with toilets and a hand-washing station until May 1, unless the city chose to extend it.

The highest scoring bidder would have needed to prove they were able to supply employees who have completed the city's "encampment training" or have proposed their own training programs.

Five staff members would have needed to be present at the camp at all times to keep a log of all people entering and leaving.

The bidder would have needed to prove they could provide hygiene products, tents and sleeping bags if campers didn't own them themselves.

In questions submitted about the project, one non-profit estimated it would cost $70,000 to operate the camp for a month. If the city did not provide up-front operating funds, the question stated, few non-profits would have the cash reserves to wait for the city billing cycle.

Cale Turner, the city's purchasing agent, has said services would be able to begin as early as next Friday, committing the city to just six days of support.

Sapp said Turner asked the city if the bid should be extended and is awaiting guidance.

Trapp's camp, called the Gail Plemmons Memorial Car Camp and Triage Center, is named after one of Columbia's fiercest advocates for the homeless, who died in December last year.

Gail Plemmons' husband, Brian Page, read a poem at the start of the press conference.

She had a "passionate compassion" for the homeless, Page said, so after she died, he set up a GoFundMe page to begin an effort to bring year-round housing to Columbia's homeless. He's raised around $6,000 so far, and is in the planning process of opening a small nonprofit in her name, he said.

Plemmons was a volunteer at Turning Point, a local homeless shelter that closed in March.

She would have been "tickled pink" by the Car Camp, Page said.

Around 270 people were homeless in Columbia in 2019, according to the city's Division of Human Services. Some 43 of them were unsheltered, meaning they were not staying in a homeless shelter like the Salvation Army's Harbor House, for example.

City officials estimate that around 70 people are presently unsheltered in Columbia, according to the RFP.

Fiona Draco, a former CNA at The Bluffs nursing home, spoke about her experiences with homelessness at the press conference. Although she is currently housed, she was last homeless just two weeks ago, when her roommate tried to get her kicked out when he was high on drugs, she said.

"I was immediately removed from my home without any warm clothing, without my identification," she said.

She is helping the Trapp brothers at the camp with a variety of tasks, including medical oversight.

"This program was built by individuals who are homeless," Trapp said. "And we want to show that individuals who are homeless have agency, that they have strengths and abilities."

The camp offers bathrooms and a hand-washing station, along with "peer-to-peer navigators," or a staff of individual homeless people who are proven survivors and can help the newly homeless, Trapp said.

He said the homeless are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus due to their lack of access to health insurance and potential drug or alcohol habits used as coping mechanisms for dealing with trauma.

"Most of the homeless outreach workers are working remotely or by phone," Trapp said. "So there's a huge gap and we also simultaneously had the greatest need. So we have tried to harness this crisis, John and I, to promote workable solutions that work right now."

Trapp said he will work independently of the city.

"I'm trying to stay out of their way," he said. "Whenever I ask for anything, they say it's a conflict of interest. The city attorney says it's a conflict of interest. Only a fool doesn't listen to their attorney."

But he said he's interested in finding out how the city's approach works.

"Even though I may have been critical of Columbia, Columbia is the most effective, best run, best governed city that I've ever lived in," Trapp said. "And I've lived in Berkeley, California, Monroe, Michigan, Toledo, Ohio, Rockford, Ohio and a number of other places."

Trapp said the camp is screening for the most vulnerable and referring them to local shelters. John Trapp will also go out into the community next week to monitor the health of the unsheltered by checking their temperatures and screening for coughs or fever, he said.

Harbor House, a local shelter run by the Salvation Army, is still accepting residents, Major Nancy Halloway said, along with providing assistance with rent to those who can't make their payments after losing their job to COVID-19.

She said the house has seen an increase in calls since the start of the pandemic from people who have never asked for assistance or experienced homelessness before.

"We have had individuals who are self-employed, we had a general handyman, we've had a massage therapist," Halloway said.

They are showing the house their bank statements to prove they had money coming in before the pandemic.

"We can look at mid-March and we can see where income has dropped off," she said.

Halloway said the pandemic has presented an especially difficult situation for people living paycheck-to-paycheck.

"We don't imagine not having a job," she said. "Most of us are fortunate enough that if our income goes down and we need to pick up a second job or something like that, we go and do it. We find means to accomplish what we need to financially. Right now, that is not an option with everything in the food industry, the entertainment industry. A lot of the services - the stores, the malls, all of that - closed down. So those individuals have been affected where this was not a consideration two months ago."

The Trapp brothers' previous attempt to shelter Columbia's unsheltered included a temporary pop-up homeless shelter at the Welcome Inn on Providence and a tent city in a 7-acre plot of land owned by Maher Commercial Real Estate.

The encampment had to close when neighbors started expressing concern with its location.

At the last city council meeting, members expressed concern with the city supporting a homeless shelter without adequate, trained staffing, and Mayor Brian Treece said he did not think moving the homeless around multiple times, as Trapp has over the past few weeks, was in their best interest.

Trapp said he has more announcements coming next week, and said he's still looking for a place to host another "safe camp" like the one hosted on the Maher plat of land.

The Tribune's coronavirus coverage is being provided free to our readers. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Tribune at columbiatribune.com/subscribenow and help keep local businesses afloat at supportlocal.usatoday.com.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Columbia Daily Tribune

Columbia Daily Tribune
Columbia Daily Tribune
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon