Life after 'Tent City' not so great for some homeless

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Reporter - Jason Hibbs
Photojournalist - Mason Watkins

PADUCAH — Is it actually harder to help the homeless now, compared to before?  

A local group of volunteers says, "Yes."

Countless volunteers were involved in ministries centered around the so-called "Tent City" in Paducah. Those volunteers still want to help, the homeless still need the help, but volunteers have trouble finding them.

For years, it was easy for folks to find many of the homeless because so many of them were living in their own somewhat-hidden community in Paducah.

After neighbors expressed safety concerns and after allegations of criminal activity, the city put a stop to it. They cleared out Tent City, sending many of the homeless to parts unknown.

In February, the last remaining "residents" packed up and moved out, and property owners cleaned up the mess left behind.

Now, volunteers say they're having trouble getting to those who still need help.

At the time of the eviction, there were about 16 people who called Tent City home.

Leaders hoped forcing them out would force many into better and safer living conditions.

Many of the homeless did go to local missions. Some even went to rehab and we're told they're doing well.

But others, for one reason or another, decided to stick it out all on their own. They're finding life after Tent City is even tougher than before.

It's a place we'd never notice.

"This is where a lot of them stay," Missionary Stephanie Daniel said of an area under a bridge.

That's where she found the people she used to help. They weren't there when we arrived but it's obvious from the clothing and other items left behind that people live there.

"This is a lot worse than Tent City," Daniel said. "At least at Tent City, we went out there and we loved on them and we laughed."

But those days are long gone.

"I just picture someone sitting here, hearing traffic go by and feeling lonely," Daniel said.

Down the tracks and through the woods, Daniel takes us to another place: the woods.

This time, someone is home. We found "Wild" Bill Vanderhoof sipping a Four Loko and stripping copper wire for scrap.

"That's how I got my living," he said. "I might get maybe two, three dollars out of it," Vanderhoof said.

He admits this is no way to live. He misses Tent City. 

Missions coordinator Michael Nimmo misses those days, too. His church, Sanctuary Church of God, helped many homeless get back on their feet.

They're success stories Nimmo said were made possible because those who needed help were easy to find and all in one place before the city evicted them.

But city manager Jeff Pederson defended the city, saying leaders had no choice because the homeless were trespassing.

"The city did what it needed to do," he said.

Tresspassing or not, Daniel said while Tent City may be gone, the problem of homelessness isn't. 

The good news in all this: Pederson said the city is working with volunteers to possibly get some type of homeless shelter built. The city recently changed city ordinances, establishing some rules on how such a shelter would be managed.

Right now, there are other shelters in the area but there are rules associated with those shelters, like no alcohol. Daniel said many of the homeless do deal with alcoholism. That's why she's trying to get many of them to go to rehab.

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