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Hangtown Haven

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Residents of Placerville’s Hangtown Haven homeless camp had to pack up their belongings Thursday evening.

“I can’t tell you what this place has meant for so many people. Us being shut down is beyond belief,” said Rebecca Nylander.

Nylander couldn’t fight back the tears; her home in Hangtown Haven has been dismantled.

“I’m beyond devastated,” Nylander said.

At the camp’s peak, 40 people called the outdoor refuge for the homeless home.

Earlier this week, Placerville City Council didn’t renew their permit – meaning 75-year-old Lollie Desmond now has to find somewhere else to live. She just moved into her temporary home a month ago.

“My car was stolen, everything I had was stolen in Tahoe,” Desmond said.

Desmond hopes to find a place to call home the next few days.

For 16 and a half months, the shelter was open. Organizers said that they were very meticulous about who they allowed to live here, even though Placerville residents claimed the shelter caused problems in the community.

“We aren’t apart of that,” Nylander said.

Instead, Hangtown Haven organizers said the camp offered unique, one-of-a-kind services that allowed transients the ability to get back on their feet.

“A few people went to Arizona for job opportunities,” said volunteer Frank Matous.

Those success stories are now memories as everyone leaves to seek whatever shelter they can.

“It would be different if we did something wrong. That would make sense, but this just doesn’t make sense,” Nylander said.


Tuesday in Placerville, the lives of 40 people already in crisis were in the hands of the city council.

“It really … it changed my life after I was gang-raped. I came into Hangtown Haven and CRC here. They really, they work miracles in life. They work miracles in giving you your self back,” said Lynda McCausland, who’s been homeless most of this year.

Despite testimonies from clients like McCausland and an impressive show of hands raised in support of Hangtown Haven, the council did not give it a seven-month reprieve.

The formalized homeless camp on Broadway will have to close.

“Do you want all the nuts on this side of town? That is a beautiful community,” said Joseph Nickels as he spoke against a proposal that would have extended the Haven’s permit.

Tensions ran high between folks fighting for the camp and homeowners who say their property and way of life have been trashed by destructive transients.

The Haven’s current use permit will expire on Nov. 15.

One of the biggest procedural arguments?

If the city code truly prevented the council from extending the permit as some alleged. Lawyers on both sides of the issue debated the code without a clear result.

Even if an extension was legal, many questioned if it should happen with a substantial increase in city crime being attributed to transients around town.

“They’re using the bottom of our driveway as a public toilet … defecating, urinating, one guy masturbating,” one woman offered during the public comment period.

Most at the meeting claimed Hangtown attracted a fringe element to town, or other homeless people who don’t actually live at the strict camp. That fringe is being blamed for what the police chief called a 92% increase in the need for police contacts with the homeless since this time last year.

After more than two hours of debate, the council unanimously decided to deny Hangtown’s request for a permit extension.

“Yes I’m happy,” said frustrated homeowner Robert Caruso after hearing the decision.

Others in the packed council room were very upset.

With winter approaching, the nomadic night shelter in town does not have the bed space to take on the 40 people who’ve called Hangtown home.


After a rough start, a committee of residents has established new rules on alcohol, drug use and violence at Hangtown Haven.

About 15 residents now have jobs, and the others are getting support services — including going to school. But James Adkins, who lives in the homeless camp and has a job, is afraid others won’t have the same chance he got.

“It’s going to be rough … Some are six months away from becoming stable and getting a place of their own,” Adkins said.

If the camp closes, residents will go back to illegal camping or going to temporary winter shelters — which they must leave during the cold months with their belongings. That’s not helpful for people who have jobs, are getting counseling or other services — or are going to school.

El Dorado County was supposed to find a permanent site for Hangtown Haven, but haven’t acted on one identified location because of complaints by nearby businesses and residents. The city council meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday and supporters of the camp are expected to show up in force.

“Maybe some people will show some compassion. This is a necessity,” Adkins said.

You can find out more about Hangtown Haven at or go its facebook page.


An apparently successful city sanctioned homeless camp will never the less close in three weeks because a permanent site still hasn’t been found.

Hangtown Haven was started just over a year ago and survived some serious glitches before becoming a model homeless camp that has been visited by people from around the country.

“It’s just kind of snowballed into an incredibly successful program, more so than we would have ever guessed even a year ago,” said Hangtown Haven volunteer president Art Edwards.

Residents formed a camp counsel and enforced rules on cleanliness, drug and alcohol abuse, violence and other behavoir issues. The 30 to 40 campers now act as a family and and help each other transition out of homelessness.

“We basically help pick people up and shake them off and away they go and help them get back into the real world,” said camp council member James Adkins.

The peer help is key for people who often have never had a family.

“We’ve given them a family, support system, hope, all of those things.  We’ve rallied resources around them and to help the,” said Rebecca Nyland.

The City of Placrville and many community organizations are happy with the success of the camp.  But Hangtown Have is operating on a temporary use permit that has been renewed several times.  The site is on temporary loan, and is not conducive to safe foot traffic.  Water and sanitation are also temporary.

The latest permit expires in three weeks.  Hangtown Haven supporters have found a replacement site on county land, but it ran into objections by nearby businesses and residents.  The  El Dorado County Board of Supervisors have yet to act on the proposed site, and residents are already packing up and getting ready to leave.

“They are really sad and terrified as what’s going to happen to them. No one really knows what’s going to happen once they leave,” said Edwards.

You can find out more about Hangtown Haven at their website.


The Hangtown Haven homeless camp is toying with the idea of building small houses from sheds.

The 8-foot by 12-foot sheds resemble tool sheds in someone’s backyard. But Mark Murray of Murray Sheds has modified them to fit two bunk beds, a small desk, a dresser drawer and a tiny closet.

Hangtown Haven founder Art Edwards says his homeless residents helped build a prototype model and he said he hopes to raise enough money to build a dozen or so in assembly line fashion.  They won’t be for everyone.

“People can live in here only if they are either going to college or have a job,” said Edwards as he gave a mini-tour of the unit which he calls a mini-house, or a micro-shelter.

The plan is to charge a rent of between $100 to $300 a month to those homeless residents who have jobs. Once they save enough money, they can transition to an apartment.

The mini-houses have no plumbing, but they are more roomy and comfortable than the shelter’s tents.

“You have regular beds and places to put your clothes and stuff instead of in bins or in a backpack,” said Kenneth Green, who lives at Hangtown Haven.

The  facility’s use permit is expiring and it is in the process of finding another site which currently has 32 homeless people living in tents.  That would be a good time to erect more of the sheds if enough money can be raised.

The goal is to make the successful shelter financially successful.

“We would need no grants, no gifts, no money from the county, no money from the city,” said Edwards.

Edwards says the ideal situation would be to have the homeless with jobs support those who do not.