In one of the small yards adjoining the homes of the quiet Fairpark neighborhood in Salt Lake City sits an encampment made up of people experiencing homelessness. They are there at the invitation of homeowner Darin Mann. He has welcomed them to set up tents in his front yard and lets them use his bathroom as well as help him tend to a community garden he runs at a nearby public park.
“The goal is to de-stigmatize how people view homelessness,” Mann explains. “Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and helped when they need it.”
Dubbed “Village Camp”, Mann’s impromptu tent area has been open since mid-January. So far some 15 people have set camp there, some of whom have come from other camps in Salt Lake City that were shut down.
“We wanted to show that to solve this problem we have to address it as a community and not be afraid of it,” says Mann, who points out how the camp’s residents are contributing to the neighborhood’s community building, especially when it comes to the gardens he maintains.
“They are helping me clean the garden and get it ready for the season. They keep the camp clean and are helping to be a positive example of working with unsheltered people.”
Since camping for more than two days on residential property is illegal in the area, city officials have recently given Mann a two-week notice to close down his camp. But the local activist is currently working to keep his village going with help from his neighbors, several of whom cook food for and donate clothing to the camp while others have hired camp residents to work around their houses.
Mann believes that small homeless communities coupled with urban farming programs can have a meaningful impact on mitigating the problem of homelessness in the city. Mann has been meeting with high-level city officials in an effort to keep his front yard village open beyond the next two weeks as well as set an example for ways to help people with no place to call home. “We hope that this new camp can be the genesis of something beautiful,” he says.