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The terrible beauty of a well-kept homeless campsite – awesome and heartbreaking by Ann Treacy
November 18, 2017, 8:00 pm
Filed under: St Paul

My friend Monica and I have walked literally hundreds of miles together. She has introduced me to running, a more purposeful generosity, Minneapolis politics and the world of advocacy for the homeless. On a classically Minnesotan cool, crisp sunny autumn day a couple weeks ago she brought me face to face with an unusual homeless campsite.

It was amazing. The footprint is easily the same size as a generous house. There is a dining room, living room, sitting room, lots of sprawling space. And every inch of every room is filled with a little piece of art or tchotchke. The parameters of the space are loosely a bridge, a walking path, a rusted out truck and a shed-like building. You could walk by this place a hundred times and note realize how extensive it is.

The home is kept by a couple – that I will call Peter (Pan) and Wendy because this reminds me of Never Never Land. It’s as if someone brought everything out of your grandma’s house and rebuilt the home outdoors. Commemorative plates, dolls, a dining room set up with china! The tree decorated with empty pop cans and airplane bottles of booze is less grandma-like but crafty and weirdly beautiful when it catches the light. And clever use of refuse. Walking up to the “door” we saw pots of plastic flowers lining the walkway. There are matching sconces on the wall, tennis shoes, pictures and hubcaps.

Each item had significance or purpose at some time and it feels like that significance or purpose has been extended by being a part of this home. It’s post-apocalyptic; it’s timeless. It is the childhood fort beyond your wildest dreams. It’s very romantic – even as you imagine being out here in the dead of winter. Even as you imagine trying to get cover from the rain. Even as you wonder how this place has been preserved and not vandalized or gentrified. It still seems romantic.

Until Monica says – but just imagine the rats and mice. It’s snaps you back into grownup reality that while the creativity, perseverance and ingenuity are applauded, the need for a home without walls is heartbreaking. There is a chance that this couple sleeps in a shelter. Most shelters, most of the year, are run like bed and breakfasts – you can’t hang around during the day. So this may be a daytime haven. The couple is unable to qualify for more permanent housing together. (They are not teenagers; these are seniors.) They busk for money and apparently are gifted musicians. Mental health plays a role in their circumstances. As it often does with homelessness.

Visiting their home was a reminder to me that my reality – my worries and joys are not universal. I have a lot; I have so much I don’t save commemorative plates, hubcaps or shoes. I have to remember the other realities out there – when I donate, when I volunteer, when I vote.

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