North Camp homeless being forced out

WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — Some of the homeless men and women who call the shanty town of “North Camp” home say they’ll fight to stay after learning Tuesday that a railroad company is kicking them out.

“We’re going to try and fight it. I’d like to be out of here someday, but on my own terms,” said Dan Owczarcak, who has lived in a shack at North Camp with his brother, Gary, for four years.

“I’m literally scared a little bit right now,” said his brother. “Everything’s up in the air right now.”

Some say they’ll move along.

On Tuesday, railroad officials, social service agencies and Walker police met with the homeless at the camp to tell them they would have to leave. They also told the residents they would help them find new homes.

Norfolk Southern is expanding its yard and adding tracks north of Ann Street, railroad officials said.

The camp has been in that spot, hidden by trees, for at least 20 years and has grown to include 10 shacks and lean-tos and about a dozen residents — with the blessings of the City of Walker and the railroad.

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Patrick Cameron, executive director of Servants Center, an agency that works with homeless, said the residents might have to leave by early June.

He doesn’t blame the railroad.

“This is their property,” Cameron said. “I don’t want anybody to see the railroad as evil in this because they are only expanding a project that’s part of their business.”

Dan Owzcarcak said staying at the camp has kept him out of trouble.

“I want to get out of here on my own terms,” he said. “Now, you’re going to push me out and I have nowhere to go again? What am I going to do? End up in prison again? I don’t want to do that.”

Social service agencies, including Servants Center, say they are working with the railroad and the City of Walker to help find new homes.

“These folks have lived like this for so long,” Cameron said. “They’re used to hardship. Some will find a space to live; some will hopefully move into some of the options that we have available.”

Cookie, another North Camp resident, built an A-frame at the camp about three years ago — the nicest place on the block — complete with a generator, a mailbox and an American flag flying over the front porch.

He also was grateful for the railroad.

“It’s a fragile relationship, but we get along with the railroad,” he said. “I don’t mess with them and they don’t mess with us — until now.”

Cookie said he doesn’t know what he’ll do, and said he might call his sister to see if she can help.

“I put my heart and soul into what I built here, and they’re going to come and they’re going to doze it over, and I don’t have any say-so,” he said.

A man nicknamed Popeye also said he doesn’t want to leave.

“We shouldn’t be out of here because we love each other,” he said. “We’re family. Why would you tear our world apart when we built a foundation and everything?”

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